By Michele S. Byers
It’s that time again! We all resolve at New Year’s to get in shape, eat healthier, read more, get organized, volunteer for good causes, and a host of other lofty goals!
How about this state we’re in? Shouldn’t the state have a list as well? Here are some suggestions for a healthy environment in 2013.
1. Secure stable, long-term funding for permanent land preservation. The last of the remaining state funds for open space, farmland and historic preservation were just appropriated. The preservation-funding pipeline will slow to a trickle once those funds are spent. A poll commissioned by New Jersey Keep It Green shows that 75 percent of residents would support a proposal to allocate $200 million a year toward land preservation for the next 30 years. And a recent Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll showed that 83 percent of New Jerseyans support continued public funding for open space and farmland preservation. With this kind of overwhelming support by voters, the state has a mandate to continue this hugely successful program.
2. Rebuild and recover, better and smarter. Super Storm Sandy clearly uncovered our weak spots. Now forewarned, our state should move firmly to, above all, keep people out of harm’s way. Some areas can and should be rebuilt, but other more vulnerable lands should not be rebuilt and, instead, be made into parks and restored to natural areas. In December, representatives of the state’s leading environmental groups collaborated on a set of “guiding principles” to help with rebuilding our devastated coastline. Following those principles, along with using open space funds known as “Blue Acres” to purchase vulnerable lands, will help ensure a more safe and resilient coast.
3. Protect our forests and wildlife. Our forests and our rare, threatened and endangered plant and animal species need increased protection. Threats and challenges to New Jersey’s forests include over-abundant deer, invasive plant species and lack of regeneration. These threats have reached the point that in much of New Jersey, native trees and shrubs cannot re-establish themselves – nearly 1,000, or over one-third, of our native plant species are now rare! The state can make a difference by dramatically reducing deer population density, and practicing responsible forest stewardship on public land.
4. Get serious about energy conservation. Let’s make 2013 a year of commitment to energy conservation and efficiency, renewable energy, distributed generation and comprehensive energy planning. According to the Wilderness Society, if New Jersey and the rest of the nation were to achieve the energy efficiency realized in California, our per capita electricity demand would be reduced by 40 percent and thousands of acres would be spared from “energy sprawl.”
5. Protect our water supplies. Most of our citizens depend on water from the New Jersey Highlands, and the Pinelands. The state must uphold land use protections in these areas and ensure that our water supplies are safe and abundant for both current and future generations.
6. Promote our parks and natural areas. For those of us who resolve to get in shape, the place to start is the great outdoors! One of the best ideas I’ve heard for getting 2013 off on the right “health foot” is the “First Day Hikes” offered at 10 state parks and recreation areas on Jan. 1. New Jersey should make a vigorous year-round effort to entice adults and children to experience our natural resource treasures. Secure funding is also needed to maintain and add to our urban parks, keeping them accessible to all New Jerseyans.
Just like many of our individual New Year’s resolutions, not all will be kept. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try! Here’s hoping that a healthy environment will be a statewide priority in 2013.
For more information about preserving our land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele S. Byers is executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.