Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saving a Swamp

By Richard Fetzer

This story starts with a bistate government organization, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, planning to build another international airport, in addition to the three that were already in the New York metropolitan area.

Their choice of location sat 30 miles west of New York City and less then 20 miles from Newark Airport.  The site, located in Morris County, N.J., is called the Great Swamp.  It consists of 7,768 acres of varying habitats and is home to more than 244 species of birds. Fox, deer, muskrat, turtles, fish, frogs and a wide variety of wildflowers and plants also live in this beautiful natural expanse. 

When it was at risk, the swamp did not have many allies.  The local and state government were not going to step in.  So, how is it that there is not a fourth international airport, but rather a national wildlife refuge, at the Great Swamp?  Grass root campaigns.  It took people with a passion of the marsh and it’s wildlife residents to protect it from the almost certain destruction.

Helen Fenske was one of the leaders in the campaign.  Because, she was a stay at home mom, she held meetings in her kitchen.  The view of the swamp from her farm house was captivating and became a physical embodiment of the their goal to save the entire swamp.

It took a lot of legwork by a lot of different people.  As explained in “Saving a Swamp and Other Landmark Campaigns,” they gave talks to various conservation groups, and seeking a wider audience, they set up a display at the Short Hills Mall that included pictures, maps, films, slides and even a recreated pond scene.  They gathered public attention and support, that trickled up to government and eventually saved the swamp.

This is a great example of how to accomplish conservation today.  With all the concerns on the political arena about human rights (gay rights in particular), the economy, health care, etc., environmental issues are often overlooked.  This is not saying that any other issues are more or less important, they just grab more attention and therefore, consideration from politicians. 

So, in order to make changes and protect the environment, we all need to find a local environmental issue to become passionate about  (God knows there are plenty), and rally the troops.  It can start out small, handing out flyers, talking to people on the street.  Then you get the attention of more people, they get involved.  Then, large environmental organizations catch wind of it and they get involved.  Politicians are next in line; they will help make change and then take all the credit, as if the whole thing was their idea.  We let them, because, after all, we have saved an important part of the earth and that is far more important then credit.

Good luck and happy conservation.

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