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Economy and environment: A redesign that works for both

June 26th, 2015

RELEASE:June 25, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 26

Must we choose between strong environmental protections and a robust economy? No – it’s possible to have both!  And here’s proof.

New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Scenic Hudson, the Natural Resources Defense Council and many partners reached an historic agreement with LG Electronics on a new 360,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in Englewood Cliffs that will meet the highest standards of sustainability while protecting the iconic vistas of the Palisades cliffs, a National Natural and Historic Landmark, and creating new jobs.

It was a happy ending to what could have been a tragic story for an American treasure, the steep Palisades that rise up dramatically from the Hudson River.

The Palisades cliffs were formed 200 million years ago, were gazed upon by explorer Henry Hudson when he anchored his ship there in 1609, inspired the Hudson River School artistic movement, and are now viewed and visited by millions of people a year.

Several years ago, the South Korean firm LG Electronics conducted a nationwide search for a home for its new American headquarters. After evaluating more than 200 locations, the company chose to purchase land in Englewood Cliffs, its base for two decades.

The original design for the new LG headquarters building made a strong statement. Too strong. The 143-foot building would have dominated the view of the Palisades north of the George Washington Bridge -a place where building heights had historically been kept low so as not to interrupt the natural panorama.

Opposition erupted on both sides of the Hudson, resulting in a legal appeal of the zoning variance that permitted the higher building.

Luckily, four former New Jersey governors, all with a strong history of protecting the environment, stepped up to the plate.

The former governors – Brendan Byrne, Thomas Kean, James Florio and Christine Todd Whitman – have strong environmental legacies and worked closely with New Jersey Conservation Foundation for many years. In fact, all serve as members of the foundation’s Honorary Board of Trustees.

The four governors sent a letter to the CEO of LG Electronics, asking for a lower-profile building that respected the Palisades’ significance as a natural landmark and historic site. The voices of the governors, when added to the grassroots opposition, made for a powerful groundswell of public opinion.

Englewood Cliffs Mayor Joseph Parisi called upon all parties to come together and resolve the conflict.

Discussions began nearly a year ago, with the goal of securing a “win-win” solution.  Trust between the parties grew over the months as options were explored.

To LG’s credit, corporate executives listened and understood, demonstrating a genuine appreciation for the Palisades’ significance in the American landscape.

This week, LG and its former foes together announced at a press event that a newly-designed building would be just under 70 feet, less than half the height allowed by the variance. The low-rise building will hug the contours of the Palisades and will not mar the historic viewshed.

The new corporate campus will allow LG to double its employment to more than 1,000 by 2019, and in the short term create thousands of construction jobs.  LG is aiming for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum standards – the highest for energy efficiency – and the design protects surrounding woodlands and wetlands as well.

The four former governors applauded the agreement, saying it “demonstrates that a strong economy goes hand-in-hand with strong environmental protection. With the construction of the new sustainable, low-rise LG headquarters, New Jersey will retain a solid corporate partner along with much needed jobs and tax revenues. And one of America’s most visible natural and historic landmarks will be protected for future generations.”

A sincere thanks to LG for being a conscientious corporate citizen and partner in the protection of the Palisades. The agreement shows that economic development, when done right, can go hand-in-hand with environmental and historic protection. 

To find out more about the LG agreement, go to http://njconservation.org/PressReleases/ShowPressRelease.cfm?prid=132 and http://njconservation.org/PressReleases/ShowPressRelease.cfm?prid=131.

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Dragonflies: Fierce ballerinas of the sky

June 19th, 2015

RELEASE:June 19, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 25

Hang out by a pond or marsh on a warm summer day, and you’re almost guaranteed to see dragonflies. With colorful needle-shaped bodies and a double set of wings, they’re fun to watch as they hover, swoop and dart, sometimes at blink-of-the-eye speeds.

They’re actually hunting … and very effectively!

Dragonflies don’t bite or sting, but their fierce name is well-deserved. They’re voracious predators, with bodies uniquely equipped to outrun and capture insect prey.

Dragonflies were among the first winged insects on Earth, some 300 million years ago. Fossil records show that some ancient dragonflies had wingspans of up to two feet! Scientists think they may have grown that large because of higher oxygen levels in the air. Today’s dragonflies are smaller, although they’re still among the giants of the insect world.

Dragonflies and damselflies belong to the order Odonata, which means “toothed one” in Greek and refers to their serrated teeth.

New Jersey has 127 species of dragonfly and 52 species of damselfly. Dragonflies are generally larger and can be easily identified because they hold their wings straight out and flat when at rest. Damselflies tend to be smaller and more slender, and hold their wings back while resting.

Some dragonfly species are widespread across the state, like the blue dasher and Eastern pondhawk.  Others are more specialized, like the dragonhunter, which is found only near the most pristine streams. Some are migratory, like the wandering glider, which ventures far off the Atlantic coast.

The life cycle of dragonflies is fascinating. Adult dragonflies mate in the air, and females lay their eggs on plants growing in lakes, ponds and marshes. The eggs hatch into nymphs, alien-looking aquatic creatures that feed on mosquito larvae, tadpoles, fish, worms and even each other. Most of a dragonfly’s life is spent as a nymph.

To complete its metamorphosis, the nymph crawls out of the water and onto a rock or stem, where its exoskeleton cracks open and the young adult dragonfly emerges. Its lace-like wings take anywhere from hours to days to dry and harden.

These wings may look fragile, but they’re actually very strong. Each of the four wings operates independently, giving the dragonfly incredible maneuverability. They can hover and fly straight up and down.

Dragonflies catch insects by grabbing them with their legs, which have appendages that form a basket-like trap from which there’s little chance of escape. Most of the dragonfly’s head is taken up by its compound eye, giving it a nearly 360-degree view of prey and predators.

“They’re a key component of the ecosystem,” said Blaine Rothauser, a New Jersey biologist, naturalist and outdoor photographer. Dragonflies help humans by keeping mosquito populations down; in turn, they become food for songbirds and herons. “They make up a good part of the food chain at this time of year.”

Just as birds and butterflies have their fans, so do dragonflies and damselflies. There’s Jersey Odonate Enthusiasts, or JOE for short, a club for those who enjoy watching dragonflies and damselflies. Learn more about JOE and its research at www.njodes.com. There’s also a great Facebook page, Northeast Odonata, where enthusiasts post photos and seek identification help.

Enjoy dragonflies this summer and remember: They need clean water, so protect the watersheds near you!

For information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

‘Pawsome’ hikes for the dog days of summer

June 11th, 2015

RELEASE:June 11, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 24

If you don’t want to leave your dog home when you head out for a hike this summer, here are some great ideas! Hiking is always more fun with a furry companion at your side, and dogs need fresh air and exercise just as much as we do.

Before you hit the trail, you must prepare. Mary Jasch, author of “Best Hikes with Dogs: New Jersey,” offers these tips:

  • Make sure your dog is trained to behave when faced with other hikers, dogs, wildlife, or strange scents and sights.
  • Pack enough water for your dog, plus a water bowl. A good rule of thumb is three liters of water for any day hike where fresh water may not be available.
  • Bring treats. Keep your dog well fed on the trail; treats will also keep your pet’s attention.
  • Don’t forget the leash. There aren’t many trails and parks where dogs are allowed to run free, plus you don’t want to risk the loss of your pup.
  • Bring plastic bags to pick up poop. It’s a matter of courtesy to leave trails, woods and beaches as you found them.

Since summer days in New Jersey are often hot and muggy, dogs can easily get overheated.  You and your pup will have the most fun on trails that provide shade and water.

Here are some great New Jersey hikes, as recommended by Mary and other dog lovers.

Stepping-Stone Trail at Stokes State Forest, Sussex County – It’s short, shaded, runs along a stream and has a beautiful series of small waterfalls.  The Tillman Ravine Trail at Stokes is also cool, shady and near water.

Sussex Branch Trail and Paulinskill Valley Trail at Kittatinny Valley State Park, Sussex County.  Most parts of these trails are shaded, and many run along the Paulins Kill, a Delaware River tributary.

Merrill Creek Reservoir, Warren County – The trail system includes forested areas, dam crossings, and places where dogs can take a refreshing dip.

Hacklebarney State Park, Morris County – Beautiful shaded trails in rocky woods, and lots of streams, make this a popular dog hike.

Ken Lockwood Gorge Wildlife Management Area, Hunterdon County – An unpaved road, partially closed to through traffic, runs along the scenic, boulder-strewn South Branch of the Raritan River.

Round Valley Reservoir Recreation Area, Hunterdon County – An unmarked water trail starts at the boat launch area, and leads to shaded trails through the woods.

Wickecheoke Creek Preserve, Hunterdon County – Try the Donald and Beverley Jones Footpath and Lower Creek Road, a popular place with dog owners.

Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve, Mercer County – Located not far from downtown Princeton, this is a haven for local dog walkers.

Sandy Hook, Gateway National Recreation Area, Monmouth County – Dogs aren’t allowed on the ocean beach side in the summer, but they are welcome by the bay.

Fisherman’s Cove Natural Area, Monmouth County – This county park has upland trails leading to a narrow stretch of sandy beach along the Manasquan River.

Island Beach State Park, Ocean County – Dogs are welcome here, except on the guarded beaches and along a special trail designed for the blind.

Malibu Beach Wildlife Management Area, Atlantic County – Unlike the famous Malibu on the west coast, this beach is small and undeveloped.

Estell Manor Park, Atlantic County – This park has several trails that run along the South River and its tributaries. Trails are flat but sometimes soggy due to wetlands and beavers.

These are just a few cool places to hike with your pooch. Each location has its own regulations and hours, so be sure to check.  If there are other dog hikes you’d recommend, please drop me a line at info@njconservation.org.

To learn more, go to www.trails.com and search “hikes with dogs.” Other hiking resources include the NY/NJ Trail Conference website at www.nynjtc.org , the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy website at www.traillink.com and the New Jersey Trails Association website at www.njtrails.org.

And for information on preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org.

Don’t let Mary Lee give you shark-phobia!

June 5th, 2015

RELEASE:June 4, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 23

You’ve probably heard about Mary Lee the great white shark. This 16-foot shark recently became a Twitter sensation – with over 70,000 followers – as a result of news stories and satellite technology that can track her whereabouts in real time.

And Mary Lee gets around! In the past month she’s been up and down the East Coast from Long Island to Virginia Beach. Her fans – and those who would prefer to avoid her – are using online tracking to find out if she’s cruising near their favorite local beaches. As recently as June 2, she was off the coast of New Jersey, in Avalon.

Should we be worried about a dip at the Jersey Shore when Mary Lee’s in the vicinity?

No, advises Marie Levine, executive director of the Princeton-based Shark Research Institute: “People are not on their menu, so it’s kind of amazing that people are getting so excited.”

Despite the impression left by “Jaws,” Levine said, the preferred foods of great whites are seals and fish. There’s a good chance Mary Lee will soon head to feeding grounds off Cape Cod, where there’s a large seal colony on Monomoy Island.

If Mary Lee is hanging around New Jersey, Levine added, it could be because she’s pregnant and about to give birth. In the 1960s, New Jersey was identified as a “pupping” ground for great whites.

The Shark Research Institute was founded in 1991 by members of the Explorers Club living in the Princeton area.  Its mission is to conduct and sponsor research on sharks, and promote their conservation.  The nonprofit also works to correct misconceptions about sharks and prevent the slaughter of over 100 million sharks annually.

 “Sharks are so necessary because they keep other populations in check,” said Levine. “If we had an ocean without sharks, we would have a septic system out there.”

She explained that when shark populations plummet, populations of skates and rays explode. These fish feed on shellfish like scallops and clams, which filter impurities out of water.  An overpopulation of skates and rays depletes shellfish. In that way, a lack of sharks leads to a dirtier ocean.

The Shark Research Institute also tags great whites and other sharks to collect information on their movements … although the famous Mary Lee is not one of its sharks. Mary Lee was tagged by Ocearch, another research organization.

The Shark Research Institute has launched the Global Shark Attack File, a worldwide database of reported shark attacks, including their dates, locations and circumstances. Levine hopes this database will help allay irrational fears about shark attacks.

“We want to take the whole subject of shark attacks out of the closet and let people see what really happened,” said Levine. “A little cut on the toe will go viral as a shark attack, when it’s usually just a collision.” Sometimes, she said, surfers literally fall off their boards and onto sharks that would not otherwise bite.

World Oceans Day is on June 8, and this year’s theme is “Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet.”  It’s a good time to remember that despite their fierce reputation, sharks play a critical role in the ocean ecosystem and the balance of nature.

To learn more about sharks, visit the Shark Research Institute website at www.sharks.org.  To track Mary Lee the great white, and other sharks with high-tech tags, go to www.ocearch.org. And to find out details of shark attacks all over the world, check out www.sharkattackfile.net.  

A great resource to learn about protecting clean ocean water and coastal habitats is the American Littoral Society – visit their website at www.littoralsociety.org.

And for information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

 

A garden buffet for birds, bees and butterflies

May 29th, 2015

RELEASE:May 29, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 22

The noise and pollution from lawnmowers and weed-whackers may be an icon of summer in New Jersey, but not for Hazel England and Emile DeVito. They don’t have much grass to mow, because they have little traditional lawn.

Instead of spending money on herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, gasoline, water and fertilizer to grow a carpet of cool-season grass in a hot, humid climate, Hazel and Emile – professional biologists for Great Swamp Watershed Association and New Jersey Conservation Foundation, respectively – opted for a personal nature sanctuary filled with songbirds, butterflies and bees and other wildlife.

About 15 years ago, they began replacing lawn with native trees, shrubs and wildflowers – the types of vegetation found in New Jersey before European settlers arrived.

Why? To save money, have fun gardening and teach their children to be comfortable outside, learning about wildlife and nature in their own yard.

“Typically, suburban landscapes are a biological desert,” Emile explains. “They have nothing to offer to wildlife.” Though ornamental landscaping plants may be pretty and colorful, he said, many are “exotics” with little or no value to the insects that are the basis of the food chain.

It took a few years, but Hazel and Emile eventually created a diverse mini-ecosystem filled with native plants and organic soil. Their yard is now habitat for hundreds of soil micro-organisms, arthropods, including caterpillars, and pollinators, which, in turn, provide food for birds, spiders, dragonflies, and even hawks and owls. Native trees and shrubs provide berries that fuel bird migration and seeds and dry fruits that that help resident birds survive during winter.

“Our yard is now an island of native forest and meadow habitat in a sea of suburban lawns, roads and rooftops,” he said. “Our lawn is reduced to pathways and a few small patches. It is amazing how many species have colonized our habitat.”

Hazel and Emile aren’t the only ones focusing on native plants instead of a manicured lawn. Throughout the Garden State, nature lovers are putting more thought into creating environments to help our birds, butterflies and bees thrive.

And some species need all the help they can get! Monarch butterflies, for example, are declining because the native plants their caterpillars feed on – especially milkweed – have disappeared from many landscapes. Some other butterflies and moths are just as particular; they’ve evolved to require specific native plants for food.

You can help wildlife by going native, too!

If you live in a rural area, consider converting part of your yard to meadow. The first step is easy … just stop mowing. Plants whose seeds are already in the ground will emerge.

You can make your meadow even better by adding seeds or plugs from native plants like Joe Pye weed, New England aster, milkweed and black-eyed Susan. Just be sure to learn about invasive plants and get rid of them before they take root.

In addition to being a haven for wildlife, your meadow will need mowing only once a year, in late fall or late winter, and will be drought tolerant.

If you live in a suburban or urban area, creating a native garden is a more deliberate process. “You can’t just remove the plastic slipcovers from your yard and stop mowing. You won’t get many native plants; you’ll get mostly European lawn weeds,” said Emile. “You will have to remove patches of lawn and add native plants.”

To attract birds, try trees and shrubs like dogwood, sweetbay magnolia, serviceberry, spicebush, winterberry, high-bush blueberry, blackhaw and arrowwood viburnum; all produce nutritious fruits. To grab the attention of hummingbirds, plant bright red cardinal flowers.

For butterflies, you’ll need plants that provide leaves for the larvae (caterpillars) as well as nectar for the adult butterflies. Butterflies are attracted to blossoms in bright colors, and some of the best natives are asters, coreopsis, echinacea, rudbeckia, monarda, goldenrod, phlox, and milkweeds. Don’t worry about goldenrods!  Wildflowers with colorful, attractive flowers have sticky pollen that is only transported by insects, not by the wind – it is a popular misconception that they cause allergies!

Bees, which are essential pollinators, are attracted to most of the same flowers as butterflies. As its name suggests, bee balm is another wildflower they’ll love.

To learn more about creating an enticing backyard buffet for wildlife, go to http://sourland.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/LITS.pdf. A list of native plant growers and other resources can be found at http://sourland.org/stewardship-resources/.

To teach children about native plants, check out “The Puddle Garden,” a new book by native plant grower Jared Rosenbaum and his sister, Laura Rosenbaum. It’s the story of a bear cub who finds new friends by creating a landscape of bounty.

Also, check out the proposed legislation by New Jersey Assembly members Bramnick, Burzichelli, and Munoz (A3133) and Senator Bateman (S2624), which would help homeowners certify and defend their habitat projects.

 And for information about preserving land and natural resources in New Jersey, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

A New Jersey walkabout

May 22nd, 2015

RELEASE:May 22, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 21

New Jersey is 170 miles long from High Point to Cape May, and about 70 miles wide at its middle. But the Garden State’s perimeter is hard to measure, due to many rivers, bays, estuaries and marshes.

But that isn’t stopping Mike Helbing from logging every mile.

Mike wants to be the first person to literally walk around New Jersey, and it’s proving to be a long, complicated journey … about 1,200 miles and counting! If all goes according to plans, he’ll finish the last leg in November.

“It’s just been an amazing experience,” said Mike, 35, who is Warren County’s recreation chairman and the founder of the Metrotrails long-distance hiking and trail-building group.

Mike began distance hiking in 1997 when, instead of a birthday party, he invited his friends on a 20-mile hike. Nearly every weekend since then, he’s led a hike of at least 15 miles.

Many of Mike’s hikes followed various sections of New Jersey’s perimeter. In 2006 he got the idea of hiking the entire border through a series of one-day treks, counting his previous hikes toward the total.

Because New Jersey is a surrounded by water on three sides, there’s an immense amount of shoreline to walk. Some people might take shortcuts – for instance, hike down the barrier island from Point Pleasant to Island Beach State Park, then hop in a car and continue the hike at Barnegat Light on Long Beach Island.

Not Mike. He’s a stickler and insists on walking every mile by foot until the first bridge is reached or the water becomes shallow enough to ford. “The rule is, your feet have to touch the ground,” he said. “No swimming.”

To get from the southern tip of Island Beach State Park to Barnegat Light – a distance of less than a half-mile as the crow flies – Mike walked back to Seaside Heights, inland to Toms River, back down along the western shoreline of Barnegat Bay, across the Route 72 bridge, then back north to the lighthouse.

Dozens of similar roundabout routes were required, especially along the Delaware Bayshore, a watery expanse of estuaries, marshes and rivers. “It’s mind boggling,” he said.

So far, Mike has completed about 80 hikes of at least 15 miles, all of them carefully documented with maps, photos and journal entries. He was joined by other hikers on all of the sections, although he’s the only person who has hiked every one.

Mike is not in a hurry. He has only eight sections remaining, but he will tackle them on a leisurely schedule over the summer and fall, saving the capital city for last.

His final perimeter hike will be along a section of the Delaware River in Mercer County. “Our plan is to finish in Trenton, and then walk a couple of blocks to the front steps of the Statehouse,” he said.

Completing the perimeter hike will be an incredible accomplishment. But what’s more amazing is that Mike’s perimeter treks are only fraction of his total. Since 1997, he’s led about 850 hikes of at least 15 miles, most of them in New Jersey.

“I’m 35 and I’ve hiked more of New Jersey than anyone alive,” he said. “I’ve done more than four times the length of the Appalachian Trail” – or about 8,800 miles.

Not everyone can – or wants to – hike like Mike. But he said people might be surprised to find out what they’re capable of, and how much there is to see while on foot in New Jersey.

To find out more about Metrotrails, visit the group’s website at www.metrotrails.org or its Meetup page at www.meetup.com/Metrotrails.

Or if you want to design your own hiking challenge, check out the Step Into Nature Challenge page at http://njconservation.org/StepIntoNatureChallenge.htm.

And for information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Protect soil on preserved farms!

May 15th, 2015

RELEASE:May 15, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 20

It’s hard to overstate the value of healthy soil on a planet whose population is 7.3 billion people … and counting.

Topsoil is the rich upper layer of soil where most nutrients and organic materials are found.  The vegetables and fruits we eat – and the green pastures and grazing lands for cattle, dairy herds and other animals – would not exist without it.

You may have seen signs and bumper stickers proclaiming, “No farms, no food.” They could just as easily say, “No soil, no food.”

New Jersey has some of the best soils in the United States, earning us the right to our nickname, the “Garden State.”  But topsoil is surprisingly fragile; it’s a precious, non-renewable resource that can easily be destroyed. It’s estimated that it takes nature 500 years to produce just one inch of topsoil!

So it was a great disappointment when the State Agriculture Development Committee, the agency that has successfully preserved over 200,000 acres of farmland across the Garden State, recently abandoned efforts to put measures in place to protect agricultural soils.

Last December, after six years of investigation – including a Rutgers University study on the impacts of disturbance on soil structure and agricultural productivity – the State Agriculture Development Committee introduced draft soil disturbance standards for preserved farms. The standards were designed to provide guidance to the owners of preserved farms about what’s required to protect soils.

But the soil protection standards were dropped like hot potatoes after some farmers’ groups complained that they were “overreaching.”

The need for soil protection on preserved lands became clear more than a decade ago when a Hunterdon County greenhouse grower began large-scale soil removal on a preserved farm. The grading destroyed at least 14 acres of prime topsoil – the very reason the farm was preserved in the first place!

The state prosecuted the grower and won the case in 2013. By then, the State Agriculture Development Committee was already looking at soil disturbance standards as a way to prevent similar violations in the future.

Soil protection standards on preserved farms make perfect sense. After all, farms being considered for preservation are ranked by soil quality.

New Jersey taxpayers have invested heavily to ensure that farmland with the best soils remains available for agriculture forever.  And the state Farmland Preservation Program’s own Deed of Easement specifically states: “No activity is permitted which would be detrimental to water conservation, erosion control, or soil conservation.”

The state shouldn’t give up on protecting soil on preserved farms! The State Agriculture Development Committee should look back on the Hunterdon County case and reconsider its decision. 

There’s no point in ranking farms based on their soil quality if the soils aren’t going to be protected! Let’s safeguard the Garden State’s precious asset – the fertile and amazing soils that provide our healthy foods!

To learn more about soil health, visit the National Resources Conservation Service website at www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/soils/health/.

And for more information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

The miracle drug outside

May 8th, 2015

RELEASE:May 8, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 19

Ever heard of the miracle drug called “Fiterex”?  It cures depression, obesity, heart disease and diabetes – with absolutely no side effects.

Dr. William Bird stunned the crowd when he spoke about Fiterex at a British medical conference on potential new drugs and side effects. His fellow physicians inquired: Was Fiterex approved for use? When would it be available to patients?

Dr. Bird responded that this wonder drug was already available. Fiterex, he explained, was nothing more than regular outdoor exercise.

Rand Wentworth, president of the Washington, D.C. based Land Trust Alliance, says an increasing number of doctors are prescribing their own version of Fiterex, giving patients a prescription for exercising outdoors surrounded by nature.

“Our country is facing a health crisis on a huge scale – a crisis that one researcher calls a ‘pandemic of inactivity’ caused by sedentary, indoor lives that isolate us from nature and from one another,” said Wentworth at a land preservation conference in Trenton.

Today’s kids, he noted, spend nearly eight hours a day on electronic devices. While these devices have opened up a world of information, they also provide “easy, addictive entertainment” that keeps people of all ages from getting outdoors.

“The result is chronic depression and stress,” said Wentworth. Equally devastating are “the epidemics of obesity, asthma and diabetes that can debilitate and kill adults and children alike.”

The good news, according to Wentworth, is that outdoor activity can:

  • Improve weight control;
  • Improve problem-solving skills;
  • Help people cope with stress;
  • Increase self-reliance;
  • Help patients heal faster after surgery.

Dr. Frances Ming Kuo, a researcher at the University of Illinois, conducted experiments with children suffering from attention deficit disorder (ADD). In one study, she took one group of kids with ADD for a 20-minute walk around the school and another group for a 20-minute walk along a forested trail.

Afterward, the students who had experienced the forested trail showed fewer signs of ADD than those who had merely walked around the school. In fact, Dr. Kuo found the walk in nature was the therapeutic equivalent of a dose of Ritalin!

Wentworth also spoke of Stacy Bare, a soldier who was injured during combat in Iraq. Returning home, he didn’t realize he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dulling his pain with alcohol and drugs, he became a full-blown alcoholic who considered suicide.

Fortunately, a friend had a hunch that spending time in nature could help Stacy. While rock-climbing in Colorado, Stacy had a breakthrough that led him to get sober and healthy. He founded an organization to introduce other veterans with PTSD to the healing power of the outdoors.

“The Pentagon is paying attention and now includes time in nature as part of the recovery for returning warriors,” said Wentworth.

It’s great that you don’t have to wait for a doctor to “prescribe” it. Just spend more time outdoors in nature this year to improve your health and your family’s health. And you’re in luck: New Jersey has many fantastic parks, preserves and trails.

To find a trail near you, visit the New York New Jersey Trail Conference website at www.nynjtc.org, New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s trailhead locator map at www.njconservation.org/recreation.htm , the New Jersey Trails website at www.njtrails.org or the New Jersey Hiking website at www.njhiking.com.

And if you want to challenge yourself, join the “Step Into Nature Challenge.”  You decide on your personal goals – for example, hiking 100 miles – and New Jersey Conservation will help you achieve them. Go to http://www.njconservation.org/StepIntoNatureChallenge.htm for information and registration.

And to learn more about preserving land and natural resources in the Garden State, visit the New Jersey Conservation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Try out your green thumb this spring!

May 1st, 2015

RELEASE:May 1, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 18

After a long winter of garden dreams fueled by seed catalogs, this is the moment Garden State gardeners have been waiting for: the weather is finally warm enough to plunge hands in dirt and do some serious planting!

If you’ve never gardened but have always wanted to grow your own healthy food, there’s no better time than now to dig in!

There’s no question that veggies, fruits and herbs taste their most delicious when just picked. And if you ask any home gardener or farmer, they’ll tell you that nothing beats the satisfaction of growing the freshest and most nutritious produce available.

Gardening is also an economical way to get bountiful produce all summer for just pennies per pound. Think back to the “Victory Gardens” of the World War II era, when families grew most of their own vegetables and fruits to save money. It’s estimated that a single 10×16-foot plot can grow enough to feed a family of four for the summer, with enough left over for canning or freezing.

Whether you live in a house with a big yard or an apartment with no yard, you can grow food this summer.

If you have a sunny patio, deck or even some steps, container gardens are a great way to go. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, green beans, herbs and many other summer veggies thrive in big, well-drained pots.

If you’re lucky enough to have yard space and good soil, start a garden plot by digging up a patch of grass and turning the soil. If your soil is rocky or mostly clay, you may want to create a raised bed instead, using wooden boards or rocks to hold topsoil that you bring in. One caveat, though: if there are deer in your neighborhood, your garden will need to be fenced or it will get munched!

Perhaps the best choice for newbie gardeners is to join a community garden. Community gardens are places where you can tend a patch of soil for the growing season, usually for a small fee. Many of them are on public land, but nonprofit groups and churches sometimes build them, too.

One big advantage of community gardens is that they don’t require a big investment of time and labor by the novice gardener. They’re usually fenced in to keep out critters, and water spigots and hoses are often provided. Sometimes there are even garden tools available for sharing.

The American Community Garden Association (ACGA) estimates that there are more than 18,000 community gardens in the United States. The exact number in New Jersey isn’t known, since there’s no master list. But if you search “community gardens New Jersey” on the internet, dozens of community gardens across the state pop up!

New Jersey’s community gardens range from small spaces with a handful of plots, to enormous gardens with hundreds. Some have been created on abandoned lots in urban areas, while others are located in park-like suburban settings. Some strictly follow organic practices, while others permit a combination of organic and non-organic.

There’s also a strong social component. Community gardeners like to chat with each other, sharing tips on what to plant, when to weed and water and pick, and how to cook the produce. Some community gardens bring in guest speakers, and others throw potluck feasts to celebrate their harvests. Generosity is another trait, as many community gardens donate surplus produce to local food banks and soup kitchens.

To find a community garden near you, visit the American Community Garden Association website at https://communitygarden.org and click on “Find a Garden.” Its listings aren’t comprehensive, so be sure to check with your town and county as well to see what they offer.

Need gardening advice?  One great resource is the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station at Rutgers University, online at http://njaes.rutgers.edu/garden. Another is the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey website at www.nofanj.org.

Happy planting, and may your thumb be green! For more information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

Cultivating a culture of health

April 24th, 2015

RELEASE:April 24, 2015 – Volume XLVIII, No. 17

What makes a community healthy – or not? And how can a community with significant health challenges improve? The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation spends a lot of time thinking about these questions.

Every year for the past six years, the New Jersey-based foundation has compiled its “County Health Rankings,” an incredibly detailed report with health snapshots of every county in the United States.

The rankings are based on a wide variety of factors affecting the current and future health of communities; factors like high school graduation rates, employment, access to health care, diet and exercise habits, rates of smoking, air and drinking water quality, drug and alcohol abuse, and neighborhood safety.

Here in New Jersey, the results have been consistent over the years, with the more affluent rural/suburban counties posting the best “health outcomes,” defined as residents’ length of life and quality of life.

For 2015, Hunterdon County ranked as New Jersey’s healthiest county, followed by Somerset, Morris, Bergen and Middlesex. Cumberland County got the lowest ranking, with Atlantic, Camden, Salem and Essex rounding out the bottom five.

In the top-ranked New Jersey counties, most residents have medical insurance and access to important health screenings. They also have access to healthy foods and great places to exercise, and their communities have low crime rates. The lower ranked counties, on the other hand, have higher unemployment rates, less access to health care and higher obesity rates.

But must less wealth mean poorer health? Not according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “No matter where a county ranks—bottom, middle, or top—all counties can take action to improve,” the 2015 report concluded.

The foundation encourages communities to cultivate a “culture of health” through collaborations between government agencies, businesses, health care providers, social service agencies, community organizations and other groups. Every year, the foundation gives Culture of Health Awards to communities that have excelled in efforts to help residents live healthier lives.

Here are three of the 2014 winners:

  • Buncombe County, N.C., is a rural area surrounding Asheville. Despite high childhood poverty rates, the community resolved to become a healthier place for the next generation.  Among its initiatives are “Rainbow in my Tummy,” designed to make sure young children have access to and knowledge about locally grown foods.
  • Brownsville, Texas, on the Mexico border, is seriously challenged by high obesity and diabetes rates. The community created a new trail at the site of an abandoned rail line – the first in a planned network of bike paths – with the ultimate goal of having a trail within a half-mile of all residents. They are providing bicycles for children and encouraging them to ride regularly.
  • At over 1,000 years old, Taos Puebla, N.M., is perhaps the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States. This Native American community is returning to its agrarian roots through a community growers’ cooperative to encourage self-sufficiency and healthy eating. Taos Puebla is also providing exercise programs for residents of all ages.

 Kudos to the Culture of Health winners, and may we all be inspired by their examples! New Jersey has many health challenges, but we also have hundreds of communities working to provide better health care, wellness education, access to locally grown foods, and parks and preserves where people can exercise and refresh their spirits.

To learn more about the health rankings, go to www.countyhealthrankings.org.  If you want to challenge yourself to become more fit, check out the Step Into Nature Challenge at www.njconservation.org/StepIntoNatureChallenge.htm.

And for more information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

 
New Jersey Conservation Foundation           Bamboo Brook, 170 Longview Road, Far Hills, NJ 07931           908-234-1225           info@njconservation.org

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