IMPACT AND INSPIRATION FROM FIRST EARTH DAY
n that first Earth Day in 1970, I was a sophomore at the McKeesport campus of Penn State majoring in forestry. Although I consider myself to have been mostly a spectator that day, the impact of the day on campus and the national news had a profound impact on me. Wanting to make a difference in the world, at the suggestion of my advisor I decided to switch from forestry to a new major, Environmental Resource Management (ERM). I was among only 10 ERM students at Penn State in 1970 and by the fall of 1971 I had transferred to Penn State’s main campus.
Being in the first class of ERM, there was a lot of new ground for teachers and students. Only in my senior year did we break away from required general science courses and get into the environmental resource management courses that had been created and taught for the first time ever. The idea for ERM was to bring an environmental focus to government and infrastructure planning. It’s hard to imagine now what an innovative concept this was, but the truly multi-disciplinary, collaborative, and scientific approach of the program meant we became well-versed on a wide range of business processes, laws, and regulations, and could communicate with a wide range of decision-makers.
During the summer breaks from Penn State and after graduation in 1973, I worked as a laborer and park ranger at Pymatuning and Poe Valley State Parks. That work gave me the opportunity to see first-hand what it takes to manage Pennsylvania’s state park system, protect our natural resources, and interact with the public in both positive and negative situations. This experience was doubly important as it became apparent on graduation that the field of environmental resource management was so new that few employers understood my academic training and expertise. Over 100 letters to agencies and companies who I was sure would need my brand new expertise yielded little success; this wasn’t unusual, only five of my fellow ERM graduates had by then succeeded in finding a position that tracked with our studies. Sometimes it is very hard to be the trail-blazer!
Eventually, though, the Department of Transportation saw the wisdom in hiring me and I became
Assistant Planning and Programming Engineer in Engineering District 9-0 in Holidaysburg in 1974, launching my 35-year career working in the transportation field focused on planning and environmental management. I was able to serve as, among other positions, Director of the Bureau of Environmental Quality for PennDOT and as time passed and I transitioned into private industry, I am happy to note that the dreamed-for consideration of environmental impacts on transportation issues has became standard.
Looking back, one of the ERM courses that influenced me the most was a seminar with guest speakers from government and industry. Most prominent among these speakers was Maurice K. Goddard, the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Resources, a relatively new state agency created in 1970 from the Department of Forests and Waters. His lecture began my exposure to the environmental leaders in the Commonwealth. Over the course of my career, I would have the pleasure to work with other prominent and influential environmental leaders in the Commonwealth such as:
All the while I was working at PennDOT and in my consulting practice, I pursued my strong interest in promoting conservation leadership and the Commonwealth's Conservation Heritage. Beginning with helping to organize and conduct the Maurice K. Goddard Symposium in 1997, I joined an ad hoc group of conservation professionals who would dedicate their passion and energies to researching, documenting, and telling the stories of the Commonwealth's rich conservation heritage over the next two decades.
In 2009, representatives from some of Pennsylvania's prominent historical and environmental organizations came together in partnership with the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation to create the Goddard Legacy Project. The mission of the Project was to answer a simple question, “Where will we find our future conservation leaders?” Using the Goddard Legacy as a springboard, the partners have now expanded the search for future leaders to the Conservation Heritage Project. The overarching mission of the Project is to create a comprehensive archive of the important story of conservation in the Commonwealth, including profiles of some of the very people I’ve listed above as having been so important in my own career.
In summary, I have been inspired and motivated by Earth Day 1970, subsequent Earth Day events, and prominent conservation leaders in the present and the past to dedicate much of my personal and professional energies to promoting conservation and stewardship. I have been blessed with good health, fortune, opportunities, family, friends, education, community, and a strong belief that people will do the right thing if they understand why.
I thank all of the conservation and environmental professionals whose work continues to change lives and inspire dedication to the Commonwealth, for all they stood for, and for the foundation they laid.
Now retired, Wayne Kober is Co-Chair of the advisory committee for paconservationheritage.org/Pennsylvania’s Conservation Heritage, a project devoted to honoring the contributions of Pennsylvania’s conservation heroes. Over the course of his career, he helped found the Pennsylvania of Environmental Professionals( PAEP), and served on the Greenways Partnership Commission, Governor Tom Ridge's 21st Century Environment Commission, the Environmental Quality Board, the Sound Land Use Committee, and the Green Government Council.
What i did on the first earth day - 50 years ago
On the first Earth Day (April 22, 1970) I was four and a half years out of Forestry School working as an Area Forester for the New Jersey Bureau of Forestry in the Kittatinny Mountains of that state. My busy work schedule was filled with preparing forest management plans for dozens of forest owners and helping them manage their woodlands by marking their timber, precommercial thinnings, and preparing reforestation plans.
I received two Earth Day speaking invitations. One from the High School my younger sister and brother were attending and the other from the Newton, New Jersey Rotary Club. I had not given many public presentations at that point in my career and was quite nervous. Back in those days the only AV equipment available was the overhead projector and 35 MM projector. Fortunately, I had a pretty good slide collection, so I pulled together a Kodak carousel reel of slides and headed back to high school. I recall my remarks covered wildfires, Smokey Bear, wildlife, trash disposal (at that time New York City was loading its garbage into barges and towing it out in the Atlantic to be dumped and hypodermic needles were washing up on New Jersey's beaches) air pollution (New Jersey oil refineries were frequently casting a foul stench over Newark, Hoboken, and Jersey City) and the absence of recycling. I described the lakes in the high country of the Adirondack Mountains devoid of trout and aquatic life because of the "acid rain" from industrial complex emissions in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan.
It was a Junior-Senior High School and the auditorium was not big enough to handle all the students, so I had to repeat my presentation. I first spoke to the senior high students; they were attentive, and my presentation was well received. Next were the junior high students (referred to as the "little kids" by my sister who was in the senior high) and before I could finish up they lost interest, ignored me, and pandemonium ensued. I was amazed that neither the principal nor the teachers made any attempt to quiet them down. It was a humbling experience to realize that I did not have the ability to keep an auditorium full of 7th, 8th, and 9th graders interested in my presentation!
After the high school experience, I approached the Rotary Club presentation a few days later with some degree of trepidation but I need not have worried because things there went much better. I did not use slides during the Rotary presentation but covered some of same environmental issues with some local examples (like the farm and industrial pollution of the Paulenskill River, a trout stream that ran through Sussex County).
I recall providing a description of the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland, Ohio that had repeatedly caught fire because of petrochemical pollution as it flowed into Lake Erie. I described Lake Erie as a dead polluted wasteland only capable of sustaining algae blooms and trash fish species.
I finished up my Rotary presentation with a question. I asked whether the Rotarians felt as a nation we would finally start to acknowledge the damaging environmental course we were on or whether we would continue to ignore the air and water pollution issues and our bodies would simply adapt and morph in way that would let us survive the pollution like the carp living in the fetid depths of Lake Erie had done. There were no audience comments and the meeting emcee simply said, "Well, you have certainly given us something to think about."
I'm happy to report that because of mandated clean air and water legislation passed over the last 50 years Lake Erie is again a viable sport fishery with swimable water beaches. The acidity levels in many of the Adirondack high country lakes have improved enough to support viable Brook Trout populations. And we haven't had to adapt to a polluted environment like the carp that lived in the fetid depths of Lake Erie 50 years ago.
Author Richard Lewis is Vice President of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and Immediate Past President of the Pennsylvania Forestry Association. Richard, his wife Jakie, and their two dogs live four miles west of Gettysburg in the Adams County, Pennsylvania countryside where they enjoy growing fields of wild flowers, taking their grandchildren on walks, and watching the deer, turkeys, fox, mink, muskrats, beavers, kingfishers, bald eagles, waterfowl, and other wildlife along Marsh Creek that flows 75 yards from their front doorstep.