September 19, 2019 | 49° F

Environmental stewardship classes to teach community how to help land

Scientists on Wednesday reported that the year 2015 was the hottest year on historical record, according to The New York Times.

But a University program, called the Rutgers Environmental Steward program, is aimed at engaging people to help protect the environment. 

The program was based on the Rutgers Master Gardeners program. The main difference between the two is that the master gardeners do their training with on-the-job learning, whereas environmental stewards complete their training by working as interns for non-profit and government environmental organizations, said Heather Fenyk, president of the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership.

If the two programs unite, members would be able to attend water quality training sessions together, as well as assist in the development of two community-based water quality monitoring events, she said.

The program is comprised mostly of non-students. Most of the stewards are people who are retired or have jobs, and want to volunteer in their free time, Fenyk said..

Rebecca Fink, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior, said she thinks people should be aware of how certain activities can affect the environment.

A person can lessen their impact on the environment by making small lifestyle changes such as carpooling, recycling and refraining from taking long showers, Fink said.

“I also enjoy going to the farmer’s market, because the food is typically grown in ways that can protect the environment,” Fink said.

Mike Gerrity, a participant in the program, said his experience as a boy scout gave him a deep appreciation for the environment and led him to enroll in the program.

“The Earth is something we share and honor,” he said. “The concept (of the program) is to prepare and take action now in order to make things better for future generations."

After retiring, Gerrity wants to find new ways to be able to protect and sustain natural resources.

New Jersey currently faces a wide range of environmental issues, Gerrity said. Citizens need to make an effort to become educated on the science behind climate change, particularly relating to rising sea levels.

People need to work together to set in place an infrastructure that is adaptive to climate change, and dedicate resources to that effort, he said.

“Keeping a complex economy moving forward, while making significant changes that avoids unintended negative consequences, requires constant attention to the delicate balance of choices that we make affecting the environment,” Gerrity said.

Elected officials need to differentiate the impact of climate change and the difficult decisions associated with their office, he said.

“It is very disappointing to hear elected officials respond to climate change impacts from a tax revenue perspective, and not avail themselves (of) forums intended to educate them on the science behind the headlines,” he said.

The program is intended to develop citizen scientists, Gerrity said.

“We function to facilitate significant change as it relates to the conservation of natural resources and environmental issues from a scientifically informed perspective,” he said.

One of the first activities Gerrity became involved with was facilitating the installation of community gardens that featured plants native to New Jersey.

Six community entities including the property owners associations, yacht clubs, wildlife reserves and community outreach centers submitted a request to receive a grant, Gerrity said. The grant would be used to purchase native plants for use in gardens.

The use of these plants would hopefully inspire community members to put them in their own gardens, Gerrity said.

His involvement in this project gained attention from the local planning board. On Jan. 1, he was appointed to the Brick Township Environmental Commission, Gerrity said.

“My ability to contribute to the benefit of a sustained environment has been made possible by my attending the Rutgers Environmental Steward program,” he said. “If you were to ask me what one thing everyone could do to help the environment now and for the future is, it is to think of water as our most precious resource. You cannot drink gold."

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article said Heather Fenyk was a coordinator for the New Brunswick Environmental Commission. Also, multiple quotes attributed to Fenyk were removed from this article due to factual inaccuracy on behalf of the reporter.

Jessica Herring

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