Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: The New Jersey Meadowlands Exemplifies the True Meaning of Earth Day

I can remember the very first Earth Day in 1970. When I tell that to students I work with they can’t believe there is someone actually that old. But yes, I do remember the first Earth Day very well.  What I remember most is how millions of Americans from all walks of life, regardless of political party, where they lived, how old they were,  how much money they made or didn’t make,  joined together, organized, and demanded a better environment for both people and wildlife.

I also remember very well the not so good old days when our Meadowlands was forgotten about and left for dead, when the worst possible things that could be done to poison, pollute and destroy  nature were performed daily on a massive scale to a place that I loved so much , my home,  the Meadowlands. But that very first Earth Day back in1970 signaled not only a new day for the environmental movement in the United States but also a new beginning and a second chance for the New Jersey Meadowlands

The First Earth Day 46 years ago that brought thousands of people to the streets and stirred the environmental conscious of millions gave us the power and the political will to pass groundbreaking historic laws like the Clean Water Act, The Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act, laws that enabled the New Jersey Meadowlands and its wildlife to make an almost miraculous return from a place that was once considered lost to one of the best urban birding and natural areas in the United States.

We have come a very long way from that first Earth Day. Today birds like the Bald Eagle, Osprey and Peregrine Falcon, once doomed by some for extinction against all odds, have came back from the brink to once again hunt in the skies of the Meadowlands. I remember being that 15-year- old kid believing it would never be possible for me to ever see a Bald Eagle, and not in my wildest dreams could I dare think they would ever nest just a few miles down the road from my home one day.

Same with the Peregrine Falcons and the Osprey that now both species also nest in places I wandered in as a boy. I will never get over the thrill of what it means for me to have the privilege of showing people that come to the Meadowlands their first Eagle or Osprey. It still gives me goosebumps.

But despite how far we have come I know and understand how much there is yet to do. We need to have our representatives understand that the wonderful natural places like our Meadowlands still need to be preserved and protected.  Growing up in New Jersey it saddens me to remember all the forests and fields that have been lost to the bulldozer.  We are running out of time and we need to move fast to make sure that these places are left for all of us and future generations to enjoy.

We also need to let everyone know that we will not go backwards by allowing the Endangered Species Act or the Clean Water Act to be weakened or eliminated. This is not only a wildlife issue but a  health and quality of life issue for all of our citizens.

On the 46th anniversary of Earth day we owe it to the people that had the tenacity and determination to do what was right to save the Meadowlands, the Eagle and the Osprey, to stand up and be counted and make sure we keep our environment healthy and clean, a place where endangered species can still have a chance to make a comeback.

As long as there is indifference and  disconnect  there will always be environmental battles and that is why we will always need an Earth Day.

Happy Earth Day everyone! Please join me for an Earth Day Celebration: Return of the Raptors, tomorrow, April 22, at DeKorte Park, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. The event, presented by the Bergen County Audubon Society, begins with a talk at the Environment Center on how and why Eagles, Osprey and Peregrine Falcons have returned to our area, plus other raptors you might see in your backyard. Then we’ll walk the park looking for raptors and other birds.

Hope to see you there!

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