What is the name of your organization and what is its mission? The Farmington River Watershed Association was established as a 501©3 non-profit conservation organization in 1953 with a mission of protecting the Farmington River and its watershed forever through implementing research, education, and advocacy programs.
What is your day-to-day role in the organization? Every day I am involved with directing programs, making public presentations, responding to questions about the watershed, developing ideas for new programs on emerging environmental issues, serving as a liaison with our Board of Directors, working with other local and statewide groups trying to make a difference, and raising funds to support our activities.
What prompted you to become eco-conscious? I grew up in Pittsfield, MA near the Housatonic River. As a kid, I went to the Pleasant Valley (Audubon) Wildlife Sanctuary day camp in Lenox and learned about pond, river, and meadow ecology. In High School, I started hearing and learning about PCB’s and other environmental contaminants that were added to the River by a local business, and my AP Biology teacher inspired me to think about a career in science. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a History degree, I went to work for Congressman Silvio O. Conte in Washington, DC serving as his legislative aide handling elderly, environmental, health, and women’s issues. With Conte, environmental issues quickly became my favorite and I worked with a team of people to write legislation that created the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge along the Connecticut River. When Conte passed away in 1991, I went to work for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, then got a Master’s degree in environmental science at U.C. Berkeley, and I haven’t looked back since. I have been FRWA’s Executive Director since January, 2003.
What do you see as the most pressing environmental issue in Connecticut? Why?
Many environmental issues are connected but I would say that one of the prime drivers of environmental problems is sprawl (a.k.a. unwise land use). This leads to a bevy of problems: an increase in impervious/paved surfaces which leads to more stormwater run-off pollution and flooding as well as less groundwater/aquifer recharge; an increase in commute times which are connected to increased consumption of fossil fuels and a worsening of global warming and air pollution; and the loss of key habitats and species due to fragmentation by roads and poorly planned developments.
How do you personally hope to make a difference? It is one thing to observe that there are problems, but it is much more difficult to come up with solutions that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely). Through our efforts to protect the Farmington River and its Watershed, we are acting as an incubator of ideas, strategies, and actions that we hope will rub-off and protect the environment across the region. At FRWA, we are doing more water quality monitoring than any other watershed group; we are working on protecting biodiversity and habitat connectivity at the town and regional level; we are working to protect the Farmington River and a key tributary, Salmon Brook, as Wild & Scenic; we are working with schools to deliver programs on watershed functions and history; we are working to raise awareness on health issues involved with lawn care pesticides; and many other projects.
What would you say to someone (any age) who wants to get involved in an environmental cause but isn’t sure how? Call us or any local environmental organization, because we need volunteers just like you! Look at our website, www.frwa.org, and think about ways that you might like to volunteer and/or support us. Come up with ideas for projects that you might want to coordinate in your neighborhood, and ask a local organization for support. You can’t get involved by sitting home watching TV. Finding a way to do something will both make you a happier person and a prouder member of your community.
Do you offer internships, or volunteer or job opportunities?
We don’t have paid internships, but we have lots of volunteer opportunities. We work with 300-500 volunteers each year to implement many of our programs.
Eric Hammerling can be reached by emailing email@example.com.