Opinion/Editorial (664 words)
This Earth Day, I Express Thanks to Our Volunteers
By Thomas S. Burack, DES Commissioner
Earth Day will be celebrated this Sunday, and although Earth Day began over 40 years ago in 1970, this Earth Day coincides with the Department of Environmental Services’ 25th Anniversary as an agency. The success of the first Earth Day in raising our nation’s collective awareness of the importance of environmental protection was largely based on a grassroots movement of concerned citizens. Today, some of DES’s efforts to protect New Hampshire’s environment are also successful because of dedicated volunteers. So, this Earth Day and in conjunction with National Volunteer Week, I want to say, “Thank you volunteers!”
I’d like to take the opportunity to personally express my appreciation to all of the volunteers who help DES to monitor and to keep our lakes, rivers and coastal areas clean, including the DES Volunteer Lake Assessment Program (VLAP) monitors, the Volunteer River Assessment Program (VRAP), and the DES Weed Watchers Program, Pepperweed Patrol and coastal cleanup networks.
Protecting the health of our lakes through water quality monitoring, some 500 VLAP volunteers collect samples from nearly 200 bodies of water in New Hampshire throughout the summer months. During the off-season, DES biologists use this information to put together an annual report for each lake. The annual DES reports include information on improving or declining trends in water quality over time that can help signal problems within the lake or its watershed, alerting biologists when action may be needed to head off problems.
Similar to the VLAP, the VRAP Program was created in 1998 to promote broad understanding of the importance of maintaining water quality in New Hampshire’s rivers and streams. Today, VRAP monitors 43 rivers and watersheds across the state with the help of 250 of volunteers. VRAP volunteers conduct water quality monitoring on an ongoing basis and increase the amount of river water quality information available to local, state and federal governments, which allows us to better protect the health of our rivers.
In addition to water quality monitors, a group of volunteers known as the DES Weed Watchers are on alert for any invasive aquatic species in our lakes, including plant and animal pests. Formed in 1988, the Weed Watcher program trains volunteers to monitor their water body of choice for species of exotic aquatic plants, such as milfoil or fanwort. These plants can displace beneficial plants and wildlife, become tangled in outboard motorboat propellers, or litter beaches with plant fragments. They can also make swimming difficult and dangerous, and can be expensive to manage.
Like Weed Watchers, the DES Coastal Program has the Pepperweed Patrol, a volunteer effort to find and eradicate the invasive perennial, pepperweed, from coastal areas before it becomes a problem. Pepperweed poses a significant threat to habitat quality by creating dense, single-species stands, out-competing local flora. In the last few years, populations of pepperweed have been located in Hampton and Rye.
Through several DES supported organizations, like the Blue Ocean Society, volunteers regularly clean up trash and other marine debris on New Hampshire’s coast and record their findings. These data document what ends up on the coast and help determine which pollution laws are working and what outreach tactics may be needed. During the 2011 Coastal Cleanup Day, held each year in September, 1,110 volunteers cleaned 34 sites, covering 25 miles of beach and collected an amazing and sobering 8,037 pounds of trash and debris.
You can find out more information about volunteering for one of these groups on DES’s website: www.des.nh.gov. Joining these volunteer groups is certainly not the only way that you can celebrate Earth Day, but I would encourage you to think about volunteering some of your time for the environment. It could be something as small as your weekly recycling trips to your transfer station or something bigger, such as volunteering for a local water quality group. Regardless of what you choose to do, that fact that you are doing something means that you are making a difference to protect and restore New Hampshire’s natural environment.
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