Month: January 2020

Share Your Water Story!

The LRWP and South River Green Team are co-hosting this hour-long public discussion, sponsored by the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, to capture stories about the different ways water matters to New Jerseyans.

Participants will have the opportunity to contribute their water story to a statewide public archive documenting personal connections to water and waterways in New Jersey. No prior preparation is needed to attend, and all are welcome to share or listen.

Join us Saturday February 8, 1:30-2:30 pm at the South River Public Library
55 Appleby Ave, South River, NJ 08882

Workshop Overview

This workshop creates the space to talk about meaningful water sites and sources for individuals and communities in New Jersey. Stories from consenting participants captured from this event, and others throughout the state, will be part of a public archive and digital exhibition that creatively visualizes, interprets, and maps New Jersey water stories and the waterways that inspired them. After capturing water stories in each county over the next year, project coordinators will curate a digital exhibition (website) to interpret, display, and share water stories.

Enjoy Nature While Nurturing It: Clean Up Edition

Article by Caleigh Holland, written as part of the Rutgers Spring Semester 2019 Environmental Communications course

It is no secret that pollution is a problem in our oceans; we know that plastic bags and straws are killing sea creatures. However, the public is not always as aware of the pollution in local rivers and the consequential damage it is costing us and the environment. The Raritan River is unfortunately full of garbage from littering and industrial facilities, as well as polluted by raw sewage. How can you as the public help an issue that impacts your drinking water, local wildlife, transportation, and recreational activities? An opportunity to aid in the health of our environment is to participate in a river clean up. This weekend activity or weekday afternoon would allow you to not only enjoy the outdoors, but bond with a group of people that share the same goal.

LRWP’s 2019 South River floodplain clean-up team, photo by Heather Fenyk

Who can join in a clean up?

The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP) is happy to have volunteers join them for service; you can connect with them through their website to find clean-up opportunities, or to share ideas for clean-up locations. Participating in a stream or river clean-up is a great community-building activity for groups of all sorts. Faith-based groups, Rutgers environmental and outdoor clubs, and local charities can sign up to help out. In addition to the LRWP, several other local organizations regularly host clean ups, and organizations like American Rivers help groups schedule river clean ups and offer advice to the public on how to create a successful event.

What are the safety precautions for the river clean ups?

For most clean-ups protective gloves are provided.

Participants should ensure that they have proper footwear, clothing for the season, bug repellent, hydration, and snacks.

The LRWP asks that volunteers leave glass, weapons, and drug paraphernalia where it is, and that they let a clean-up coordinator know about those and any other dangerous items.

Individuals under 18 need a parent’s signature to participate in formal clean-ups, and for every five youths under 12 one adult must be present.

Why we should clean up the river

There is a considerable amount of pollution in the Raritan River from a number of different sources.  One kind of pollution of concern is microplastics, which are any pieces of plastic smaller than 5 millimeters. Microplastics are either created from the breakdown of larger pieces of plastic, are by-products of plastics production, or are used in products such as toothpaste or cosmetics.  Researchers from Rutgers University have shown a high concentration of microplastics in local waters water. 

Any plastic that is allowed to wash into the river such as through storm drains can easily end up in the water and over time will wear down and distribute itself throughout the river’s waters. If freshwater animals eat the microplastics found in the water and then humans eat the aquatic animals, there is growing research that suggests that the ingestion of plastics can lead to changes in our chromosomes which could lead to obesity, cancer, and infertility. There are potentially several health consequences to the public if we don’t clean up the Raritan River.

How much of a difference can you make cleaning up the river?

Although it may seem like a lost cause when you hear about the amount of pollution already in the river, a little goes a long way in terms of clearing the water of garbage.  Over 20 years, the town of Manchester, NJ organized over 116 clean-up events with more than 1000 volunteers.  In less than two decades they managed to collect 2,394 bags of trash which amounts to $78,000 in volunteer donation time.  Organizations like the LRWP are trying to do the same along the banks of the old Raritan.

How can we clean up when there is no event scheduled?

A clean river starts with your daily routine.  Recycle rather than throw out your garbage.  Recycle your plastic shopping bags at local grocery stores.  When you walk or jog outside, pick up garbage as you go.  “Plogging” – picking up litter while jogging – is a way for you not only to promote a healthy lifestyle for yourself, but for the environment too.  You don’t need to jump right in and get your feet wet—you can help the river by thinking more consciously about your own behaviors at home, at work, and in your community.

Effective communication about the environment is critical to raising awareness and influencing the public’s response and concern about the environment. The course Environmental Communication (11:374:325), taught by Dr. Mary Nucci of the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University, focuses on improving student’s writing and speaking skills while introducing students to using communication as a tool for environmental change. Students not only spend time in class being exposed to content about environmental communication, but also meet with communicators from a range of local environmental organizations to understand the issues they face in communicating about the environment. In 2019, the course applied their knowledge to creating blogs for their “client,” the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP). Under the guidance of LRWP Founder, Dr. Heather Fenyk, students in the course researched topics about water quality and recreation along the Raritan. Throughout 2020 the LRWP will share student work on our website.

Why Children Need Nature

Article and photos by Ben Schiavo, written as part of the Rutgers Spring Semester 2019 Environmental Communications course

Children today are spending much less time outdoors than children in the past. Whether riding bikes, interacting with nature, or just playing with friends, research is pointing out that not enough time outdoors, and too much time indoors, especially when that time is spent in front of a screen, can have negative consequences. Research has shown that too much screen time has been associated with obesity, problems with cognitive development, irregular sleep schedules, behavioral problems, and loss of social skills. Parents are recommended to reconsider how much time their children spend interacting with screens, and that they should make sure their children play outside an hour a day; an hour which can help children physically, mentally and emotionally.

Losing our nature
Have you ever heard of nature deficit disorder? Most people have not. In his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv pointed out that children are spending less and less time outside, and that some behavioral issues in children, such as limited respect of their surroundings, attention disorders, and depression stem from not spending enough time in nature. As a metaphor, and not a medical diagnosis, nature deficit disorder speaks to a loss of connection to the natural world. Did you know interaction with nature can reduce symptoms of ADD and ADHD? This is a lot to take in but let’s rewind for a quick second.

Back to the past
Remember the days when you were growing up? Riding bikes around with your friends, maybe getting into some trouble, and having to return home when the streetlamps turned on because that was Mom or Dad’s rule?

Children aren’t creating memories of time outside like we did. As a child I spent a lot of time with friends building a tree fort. If you look closely at the tree in the picture you can still see a rope tethered to it. My friends and I took an old tarp and tied it to that tree to make a fort where we could hang out and just be kids. To most, this may seem like a regular old backyard/forest, but to me it is my childhood. When looking back into their memories, all kids should get to experience the feeling of nostalgia that I have when I go into my backyard.

Instead, too many children are spending too much time in front of a screen. And importantly, too much screen time and too little nature time is more than a kid glued to their phone, it also means they can be feeling the negative psychological effects brought upon by too much tech use.

Finding your way back to nature

Research has shown that children do better physically and emotionally when they are in green spaces, benefiting from the positive feelings, stress reduction, and attention restoration nature engenders.  Not only can nature deficit disorder be disruptive of the development of your child but it also promotes a generation of children disconnected with nature.  This is a troubling thought when looking into the future.  What will happen if our children are raised to not care about the environment? How can we implement positive change for theEarth if our children do not care about nature let alone go into it?

For parents, grandparents and anyone who cares for children, there are many different ways you can introduce nature into their lives:

  1. Take your child hiking. Show them the outdoors and let their imagination do the rest. Look at all the insects, the frogs, the butterflies and show them how beautiful and fun nature can be.  Heck, let them throw some rocks into the water if they get bored.
  2. Take your child to the parks in your area, like Boyd Park in New Brunswick. Boyd Park holds an event every year called the Raritan River Festival that has all sorts of fun, kid friendly events, like a rubber duck race down the Raritan River.   Not to mention music, food, arts and crafts, and basically everything a festival needs for a child to enjoy themselves. Show your kids that the outdoors around them can be fun if they give it a chance.
  3. Use social media to show your children that going outdoors is cool. A new trend on social media is the #trashtag challenge which involves going out and cleaning up your community. and afterwards, posting the pictures of all the things you found and disposing of them properly. The trend is beginning to gain speed, and those who participate receive huge positive feedback from those who see their actions! Your child could receive tens of thousands of likes on Twitter (which is a big deal to kids these days) making the children happy, and the Earth happy. Not only will your child be happier, but they will be healthier!

But it doesn’t have to be anything structured to reintroduce nature to your children.  Perhaps you can also think about how much you loved to be outside when you were a kid.  Build a tree fort, lay on your back and watch the clouds, feed the birds, plant a garden, kick a ball.  Just go outside and enjoy the world all around us.

References

Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods. Algonquin Books, 2008.

Links

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_protect_kids_from_nature_deficit_disorder

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1056499318300592?via%3Dihub

Effective communication about the environment is critical to raising awareness and influencing the public’s response and concern about the environment. The course Environmental Communication (11:374:325), taught by Dr. Mary Nucci of the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University, focuses on improving student’s writing and speaking skills while introducing students to using communication as a tool for environmental change. Students not only spend time in class being exposed to content about environmental communication, but also meet with communicators from a range of local environmental organizations to understand the issues they face in communicating about the environment. In 2019, the course applied their knowledge to creating blogs for their “client,” the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP). Under the guidance of LRWP Founder, Dr. Heather Fenyk, students in the course researched topics about water quality and recreation along the Raritan. Throughout 2020 the LRWP will share student work on our website.

Lower Raritan Parks – Ours to Enjoy

Article and photos by Gisela Aspur Chavarria, written as part of the Rutgers Spring Semester 2019 Environmental Communications course

Are you bored at home?  If so, go to one of our local parks along the Raritan River and enjoy the outdoors. Highland Park offers various parks and abundant open space and recreation for residents and visitors. One amazing place to visit in Highland Park is the Native Plant Reserve.  The reserve has a collection of native flowers, shrubs, vines, and trees, with educational signs for each species (1). The reserve is a fantastic place to drop by and explore nature. It’s also a great place to bring children of all ages to teach them about plants and their importance.

You can also visit the Eugene Young Environmental Education Center in Highland Park which uses art to raise awareness about wildlife and the significance of the Raritan River. In 2014, a mural was unveiled at the Eugene Young Environmental Education Center as part of a project to create artwork to highlight the river, and to make people aware of its beauty, and value (5).

Highland Park’s Eugene Young Environmental Center

Another extraordinary recreational place along the Raritan River is Donaldson Park which is located in the Borough of Highland Park. The park has boat ramps, kayaking, fishing, sports fields, biking trails, playgrounds, and paved trails (2). The picnic groves in the park are a great place for families to eat and spend quality time with each other.

Donaldson Park picnic groves

Similarly, Elmer B. Boyd Park in New Brunswick is an amazing recreational space for community engagement. It provides walking and biking paths, a playground, and a boat launching space. Boyd Park also hosts many community events during the year, including the autumn River Festival, the Hispanic Festival, and the city’s Fourth of July celebration (3). You can also learn about the history of the river through the signage through the park. All of these parks are great recreational places for individuals and families to connect with the river and enjoy the outdoors.

New Brunswick’s Boyd Park during the annual Raritan River Festival & “Duck Drop”

Promoting River Access

But our local parks are important for more than just recreation, as they provide vital access to the Raritan River.  River access encourages individuals to develop a relationship with the river and connect to our local environment. By connecting the community with the river, people develop a sense of ownership and care about the river and its future. Visual exposure to natural resources like the Raritan River prompt people to understand the importance of the river and the value it provides for the community.

Recreational activities by the river are wonderful ways in which individuals can connect with the river. Whether you canoe, fish, or walk along the river, access to river recreation inspires people to protect nature and wildlife. Furthermore, recreation creates a caring constituency for healthy rivers, lands, and resources, inspiring the preservation of important places. Thus, it can encourage communities to help control pollution and ensure natural resources are preserved.

Nature and Mental Health

Aside from the pleasure of enjoying activities along the river, recreation by the river can also improve your quality of life.  Researchers have shown that exposure to nature is beneficial to people’s mental health, suggesting that accessible natural areas within urban contexts may be a critical resource for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world (6). Exposure to nature can improve your mood and self-esteem, help you feel more relaxed, reduce anxiety, and help with depression (7).  Significantly, a lack of nature experiences may contribute to a range of issues in children.  In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv described how children are spending less time outdoors and how it could influence not only their health, but also their connection to and support of the natural world.  The book spurred national dialogue about the importance of nature.

Ultimately, regardless of where you go along the river, and the park you choose to visit, you can find many ways to connect with the river: you can learn about the importance of plants, have a family picnic, go to a river festival or just take a walk.  Our local parks can help you stay fit both physically and mentally while connecting with the river.  So, if you are bored at home, go spend some time along the Raritan.  See you out there!

Effective communication about the environment is critical to raising awareness and influencing the public’s response and concern about the environment. The course Environmental Communication (11:374:325), taught by Dr. Mary Nucci of the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University, focuses on improving student’s writing and speaking skills while introducing students to using communication as a tool for environmental change. Students not only spend time in class being exposed to content about environmental communication, but also meet with communicators from a range of local environmental organizations to understand the issues they face in communicating about the environment. In 2019, the course applied their knowledge to creating blogs for their “client,” the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP). Under the guidance of LRWP Founder, Dr. Heather Fenyk, students in the course researched topics about water quality and recreation along the Raritan. Throughout 2020 the LRWP will share student work on our website.

What does the fox say?

Article and photos by Joe Mish

Look in to my eyes and tell me you know I exist, hear my voice and know I am near

The hiker, skier and the fox

Passed this way on a snowy walk

The same path was taken on that day

Though each saw things a different way

What does the fox say?

A series of hair raising, high pitched screams pierced the darkness, made blacker by the invisible February new moon. The sounds echoed in the still night, their source, initially speculative, was attributed a red fox.

Late winter marks the renewal of life for many wildlife species including red fox. What set fox apart from most other wildlife, are their screams made during the night time mating ritual. Mating fox do not confine their mating ritual to the night and may on occasion be heard during the day.

The screams sound quite like a screech owl or a young great horned owl and the range of vocalization is wide and varied. That is what makes differentiation between owl and fox calls so initially challenging. The sound they all share is like a ‘blaat’, elongated into a screech. The giveaway is that an owl will move locations while the fox screams are stationary and muted because they are made close to the ground, the sound obstructed by trees and brush.

Male fox referred to as dog fox, roam far and wide looking for a mate and are often seen during the day. South facing hillsides are a favorite place for a fox to fall asleep.

The air currents travel uphill in the warm sun and carry delightfully interesting scents to a nose that never sleeps.

Additionally, any approaching danger will be detected at a distance, allowing time for the alerted fox to seek secure cover.

It appears more of a magic trick for a red colored fox to hide in the middle of a pure white expanse of snow. When observed, is akin to an apparition performed in a magic act. You can’t believe what you are seeing.

A male will court and mate with one or more females, also known as vixens. It is interesting, that like mink and other wildlife, the implantation may be delayed several days or more as in the case of mink. Theory suggests the first mating may not be with the ideal mate and when a better male comes along it allows his genetics to be passed on.

Late one January, among a jumble of boulders on a snowy hillside in mature woods, a female was preparing a den, as evidenced by the fresh orange earth scattered on the deep snow. Dens may be used year after year but generally a new den site is selected.

The initial den site may be abandoned and a new site selected for the growing pups. I imagine security and cleanliness are some considerations in moving a litter, though there are many examples of a single den serving until the pups explore on their own. One female moved six pups from a pasture to a groundhog den nearby. Mom picked up each pup by the scruff of the neck, head held high and carried them a couple hundred yards to their new home.

This nursing session coincidentally took place on Mother’s day, May 15th. Mom moved six pups 400 yards up from the river flood plain just in time before a heavy rain covered the pasture with 4 feet of water.

Gestation is generally 60 days and litter size may vary from two to six. I have observed a litter of six pups though four or five are more commonly noted.

As the newborn pups are totally dependent upon mom for food and warmth she rarely leaves the den and depends on the male to bring her food. When the pups are old enough to control their body temperature and require less attention, mom will begin hunting again. I have seen one fox, hunt and kill several mice in one session. She then picked them all up, at least three tails dangling from her mouth, and trotted off to her feed her pups.

As I was writing this, I heard intermittent screaming, which sounded quite like a yapping ten pound lap dog. the sounds were consistent with mating fox, though it was nine in the morning. The strong wind carried the sounds afar to confuse the location of the fox. At one point it sounded as if I was just yards away. Nothing! As I returned I heard the sound again at a distance, closer to home. Unexpectedly, a fox trotted across my path from where the barking originated. So I mark this day to project a birth date sure to take place nearby in about 65 days.

Dog fox on the run, love on his mind, suddenly appears and then is gone. Quick draw photography a requirement.

When we go beyond text books and actually observe wildlife, we come to appreciate individual personalities that stand in contrast to the declared behavioral generalizations. We are misled in that way to think of wildlife as isolated, inanimate objects, predictable in nature and nothing more to see, that’s all there is.

The fox that came into a neighbor’s yard and began tossing a dog toy in the air, pouncing and leaping in a playful moment, fits no description of its kind in any Wikipedia summary.

Another neighbor further down the road noted a fox to be a regular visitor and she discovered the fox would steal her pony’s rubber boots. I wondered how common it was for fox living near homes to steal or play with dog toys or other objects a dog might be expected to have fun with. There seems to be enough anecdotal evidence of fox engaged in such antics.

During late spring on Sandy Hook National Recreation Area, I watch a family having a picnic and observed a fox sitting perfectly still and upright about 30 steps away in the open. The picnickers saw the fox and tossed some food his way. The fox came forward, took the food and retreated to his original position, politely waiting for a second handout.

We all have our own unique style and flair as does every individual wild creature. Fox display an intelligence and creativity, as if to say, “Look in to my eyes and tell me you know I exist, hear my voice and know I am near.” A plea often seen in the eyes of little children and the elderly; We are kindred spirits with all living things and share many needs in common, the fox is an animal spirit guide in that respect. That’s what the fox says!

Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author. Contact jjmish57@msn.com. See more articles and photos at winterbearrising.wordpress.com.

Agnotology, or what don’t we know about what we don’t know?

We have learned a lot about ignorance in the last several years, enough in fact for ignorance to now be the focus of its own research field called “agnotology.” The basic idea of agnotology is that ignorance is not simply the absence of knowledge, but something that has been itself historically constituted.

Mark Ruffalo’s 2019 film Dark Waters – a study of how DuPont and the US Environmental Protection Agency perpetuated ignorance about the harms related to Perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOAs and the presence of PFOAs in the lands and waters of West Virginia – is a great example of agnotology research. Also on the shelf of agnotology studies is The Guardian’s examination of the case of Flint, Michigan where, for at least a year and a half after hundreds of public complaints about “foul smelling drinking water as dark as coffee,” local politicians suppressed environmental and public health information.

We know from both these cases – and a seemingly endless set of additional examples including mounting climate crises around the world – that ignorance has major destructive and devastating consequences.

The core questions that agnotology asks are: How has ignorance been historically constituted? And how (and why) have we allowed ignorance to be perpetuated?

Applying this line of thinking to environmental assaults, we need to ask: how are ordinary people at times complicit in perpetuating the ignorance that wreaks environmental harm and injustices?

One way to start to understand our construction of ignorance is to examine the perspectives we bring to consider environmental harm and injustice in the first place. Take the two different starting points of the Precautionary Principle and Risk Assessment.

Precautionary Principle

In 1992 I interned with the United Nations Association in preparation for the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and helped develop a compendium of documents on global approaches to addressing environmental concerns. One such approach was the Precautionary Principle. The Precautionary Principle suggests that environmental policy involve anticipating harm and taking appropriate precautions. That is, possible harms are considered pre-emptively as part of development of any new policy. The precautionary principle has four central components: taking preventive action in the face of uncertainty; shifting the burden of proof to the proponents of an activity; exploring a wide range of alternatives to possibly harmful actions; and increasing public participation in decision making. The Precautionary Principle guides policy making in many countries, and is the foundation of the strongest and most comprehensive US federal environmental protection programs including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.

Risk Assessment

For the last several decades, the Precautionary Principle has been superseded by an alternative approach to policy and decision making called “risk assessment.” With respect to environmental hazards, risk assessment seeks to balance pollution against profit and economic growth. Assessments of risk are carried out by regulatory agencies responsible for protecting environmental and human health, and these entities set pollutant limits and site-specific assessments. Industry is then responsible for complying with legislation and site-specific decisions. Risk assessment is the default approach for oil companies and other climate deniers. Risk assessment was the default approach for DuPont, the EPA and Flint. As our mounting climate concerns, the Dark Waters film, and the Flint water crisis make clear, the “risk assessment” approach has failed us.

Agnotology pushes us to see how our ignorance is socially constructed. That is, do we consider potential environmental harm and injustice as something we must actively plan to avoid based on specific societal goals of environmental well-being and justice (Precautionary Principle)? Or do we instead choose to consider environmental harm and injustice in the context of unknown future scenarios and risk calculations (Risk Assessment)?

Of course the Precautionary Principle and Risk Assessment are not the only approaches to bring to these considerations. Communities and societies around the world are wrestling with hybrid or other distinct approaches to reduce harms. The point is however, that if we hope to prevent future disasters in places like West Virginia and Flint, if we are to take action to avoid contributing to climate impacts, we need to think harder about how we know what we know about the impacts of our decisions to cause environmental harm and injustice. Making decisions while reflecting on them from an agnotological perspective – that is thinking about what we don’t know and how and why we don’t know it – is a good place to start.