Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Small Victories Change The World

I am embarrassed to admit that I almost totally gave up watching the news. I was always that guy that prided himself on being up to date on all the goings on, whether it was national or world events, and even liked discussing them on occasion. But now, that is no longer the case.

Sure, I still try to grin, bear it, and guardingly switch on the morning news just to see what will happen. Not surprisingly it does not take me more than a few minutes before I wonder why I bothered and change the channel or shut it off totally; because it has me ready to hide under the bed waiting for the next natural disaster, government upheaval or the newest oncoming plague that will surely be the end of us if we don’t listen and “STAY SAFE.”

More often than not, it seems the reports are not much different with the latest environmental news. The daily warnings of our inevitable demise will make one throw up their hands and wave the white flag in surrender. The real tragedy in all those discouraging and depressing reports is that it makes things seems like all is hopeless and that there is nothing anyone can do to make things better. So why bother and let’s just sit and wait for the floodwaters to rise and be done with it. But I still believe that is not the case at all.

Now don’t get me wrong. Doing what I do every day can get downright discouraging and can on some days have me question why I choose to continue on at all. But then I quickly remember that I am a child of the Meadowlands, a place that has seen the worst crimes against nature now returned to one of the most amazing natural success stories, even better than anyone could have ever imagined. Make no mistake: this is something that never could have been accomplished without a few good people that cared enough to get the powers that be to understand the importance of a place that very few at the time thought was ever worth saving.

I am always amazed of all the great things that can happen when good people join together to do the right thing. Just like at Liberty State Park , “The People’s Park.” If not for the strength and power of the individual, it would not exist and in all likelihood would have been taken over by billionaires who wanted nothing to do with a real park, as we know it. Big money did not win but the power of the ordinary people did.

Our wildlife hangs on also because good people decided to stand up and not wait and do what they could do to help. Case in point our Monarch Butterfly, which should be on the Endangered Species list but stays unlisted  because of the powerful farm lobby. And yet today the Monarch continues on because of   homeowners, garden clubs, local conservation groups and yes, individuals who plant and protect milkweed and pollinator habitat wherever and whenever they can. Do we need government to step in and help? Absolutely! But we should never sit back and wait to act.

Almost 30 years ago, myself and many others started to advocate for the use of native plants in backyards, and, quite honestly, we were viewed by most people as being more than a little out there. More often than not, I was being disinvited as a speaker to many local events because I was told that no one wanted to hear about attracting wildlife to the backyard only how they could get rid of it. Needless to say, things have improved greatly over the years, but that was only changed by individuals who did not give up and worked hard to get the word out on the benefits of native plants and as a result have helped countless wildlife survive another day.

More than 10 years ago, many people stood up to save a local eagles nest in Ridgefield Park. We were told at the time that it could not be saved. There were people with too much money and power that wanted it gone. Even the State of New Jersey was indifferent and did not care much about an eagle’s nest that was up in Bergen County of all places. But families, schoolchildren and individuals, and yes, Bergen County Audubon, I am proud to say, stood up and said NO! Our Eagles will stay. And guess what? After battle after battle it stayed! To date 14 baby eagles fledged from that nest, a perfect example of what individuals can do when they join together to do the right thing.

These kind of successful environmental victories are happening everyday all around us. It might be someone saving milkweed along the roadside or taking an injured hawk to a rehab center. It could be someone helping to start a pollinator garden in a community or even making room for a robin that has nested on your windowsill. Make no mistake: every positive action no matter how small changes things for the better. Saving trees in your town, participating or starting local cleanups, advocating for saving open space, cutting back on your lawn and going organic. All the good you do and have done will one day snowball into many people doing the right thing in many different places.

Environmental activists are not always the people carrying the signs. Activists can be people that take a kid out birding, that save a place for a backyard groundhog, teachers that bring the love of nature to their students each day, people that plant native trees in a local park, local folks who  join together to protect wildlife habitat right in their own community.

The Dalai Lama once said, “Anyone who thinks that they are too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room.”

So be the mosquito in the room! Make some noise, plant natives, look out for wildlife and make your voice heard and do what you can. When you can help nature, we all are depending on you

    See you in the Meadowlands,


3 thoughts on “Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Small Victories Change The World

  1. Israel Wahrman

    I love this essay. Thank you for the inspiration and for your leadership in protecting our environment and wildlife.

  2. Israel Wahrman

    Thank you for this inspirational essay and for your leadership in protecting our environment and wildlife.


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