By Gary Mechanic, Executive Director
2017 was the worst of years, and the best of years, and I’ve seen a lot of years. I’m 70 and I’ve never seen federal protection of the environment take such giant steps backwards! Since the USEPA was created in 1970, it has dragged it’s feet creating pollution control standards, it’s refused to regulate several pollutants, and it’s been lax in requiring state EPA’s to enforce federal standards.
But I’ve never seen it roll back regulations and abdicate enforcement of vital areas of the department’s responsibilities the way it has in the last 11 months. On February 28, 2017, President Trump enacted an executive order to allow the Administrator of the EPA to revise or rescind the Clean Water Rule in the name of economic growth! That got our attention “bigly”.
The line of developers who want to turn sensitive habitat into dollars in their pocket goes down the block and around the corner. Scott Pruitt’s telling them it’s open season. Wanna pave a wetland for your big box store? No problem. Care to build a sub-division where all the stormwater runs straight into the local creek because building a retention pond will retard your profit? Go right ahead.
Now the only thing that stands between them and the natural world they seek to reduce are local governments; counties and townships, and a handful of concerned citizens organized as not-for-profits like Friends of the Fox River. We’re not against development, we’re just against dumb, damaging, development.
On The Upside
Although the challenges posed by the new administration in Washington made 2017 a depressing year for many of us who love and care for our local natural inheritance, it’s what could be coming that put the leadership of Friends of the Fox River on guard, and ultimately made 2017 a great year for our organization.
As an organization focused on the environment (not politics), the outcome of the last Presidential Election surprised the Officers, Directors and staff of Friends of the Fox River as much as anyone. And although our board and membership includes supporters of both national political parties, we all understood how the campaign promises the candidate made while campaigning, would now be serious threats to the health of our local environment should the winner actually keep those promises.
We also understood that we need to strengthen our commitment to our mission. We need to strengthen our base of members, volunteers, partners, and supporters. Moreover, we need to strengthen our capacity to respond locally to new threats to our watershed and river from reduced regulation, and reduced enforcement of federal environmental protections.
Herding Effective Cats
When I began working for Friends of the Fox River at the beginning of 2016 my only request (or contract term), was that we conduct a strategic planning process and come up with a plan that renews our commitment to the mission, better aligns our resources with our mission, and coordinates the work of our board, staff, members and supporters more effectively. Let’s just say it took a while before everyone got on board with the idea of making a “plan”.
What we had been doing for most of the previous 25 years had been enormously effective without much more planning than listing a few goals for the next year. And while I’ve worked for, and closely with, much larger, better staffed and funded environmental organizations like the Lake Michigan Federation, Friends of the Chicago River, and Prairie Rivers Network, I’ve never seen any organization accomplish so much with so little.
A Brave New World
But when we woke up on Wednesday, November 9, 2016, it was clear to all of us that politics, and economic concerns, had trumped the environment and we were going to have to step up our game. So we have. We conducted the most extensive and, I think, effective strategic planning process I’ve ever been involved with. And we’ve come up with an ambitious and exciting plan to meet the new challenges.
Beginning on January 10th, and over the next few months, Friends of the Fox River will publicize our new Strategic Plan and begin rolling out our new long term programs, short term projects, and new events.
While our educators have created an unparalleled record of educating more than 27,000 students and teachers about the natural world and their local streams over the last twenty-five years, now we are going to expand our streams education, monitoring, stewardship programs to life-long learners like you with a new virtual, and on-the-ground, “Watershed Academy”, “Love The River Celebrations”, a new “Creek Caretakers” program, a series of bus tours, an “Action Alert Network” and a “Flood Response Team”.
Friends is Plural
You are already a friend of the Fox River or you wouldn’t be reading this. And the Fox River needs your friendship. It is affected in many ways by how the top species living on it’s watershed treats it…how you use water, deal with rain, what (and when) you flush, where you you build your house, business or school, and…who you elect.
But its’ only when the Fox River’s friends act together that we have any chance of protecting it against the ignorance and/or greed, of the worst of our species.
Friends of the Fox River’s founder Pat Reese wrote:
“We understood that any dying river ecosystem can only be restored successfully on a watershed scale. We believed an uncoordinated, piecemeal approach to river conservation work—with just a few enlightened organizations and agencies participating—would not even come close to doing the job. It will take all of us.”
Stand With Us
Local protection of natural resources has never been more important. Standing together to protect the river we love has never been more important. So your support of Friends of the Fox River has never been more important.
We need your help in ways we never have before. Join or renew your membership now, but also think about how you can help with your knowledge, experience, time, skills, and contacts. We don’t just need volunteers for cleanups or workdays, we need people who know engineering, hydrology, accounting and bookkeeping, people who know MS Access, Word & Excel, environmental regulations, fundraising and grant writing, and many other skills. We need more people who are willing to go to a local township’s zoning meeting, help run a canoe trip, research a wastewater treatment plant’s operating record, or simply make a phone call to their elected representatives. Connect here!
It’s a new year, with new challenges, and new opportunities to make the world a better place. I’m asking you to do what you can to help now. Stand with us to protect the Fox River and the land that creates it.