Drew recently received the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence for the category of Healthy Ecosystems. According to Dr. Sara Webb, professor of biology and director of environmental studies, “It was awarded by the state of New Jersey, specifically the Department of Environmental Protection. Many organizations were nominated for this and several other categories.”
As Webb explained, the Health Ecosystems award is not a general award for environmental programs. “But,” she said, “[it] is specifically for our work to restore the Drew Forest Preserve and to transform the rest of the campus toward natural ecosystems that support birds, butterflies and other components of biodiversity.”
Webb is actively involved with the plan to restore the Drew Forest Preserve. She began forest restoration in 2008 in two areas of the Drew Forest—the Zuck Arboretum and the Hepburn Woods—with three objectives in mind: “To protect the deer from using a ten-foot deer fence, the removal of damaging invasive vines and trees that choke out baby trees and native wildflowers and planting more than 2,000 native trees and shrubs.”
“Hundreds of Drew students have participated in this project through research, planting trees and pulling out invasive plants. Many of our baby trees came from a work program at Bayside State Prison,” she added.
The funding for these projects came from grants. “Environmentalist Chris Hepburn, a former Drew neighbor, was very generous and I formed partnerships with New Jersey Audubon and with the US Fish and Wildlife Service who continue to provide expertise and hands-on support on the ground.”
Although the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence Drew received was distinctly geared towards ecological restoration, Webb believes Drew is additionally environmentally friendly in several other ways. She affirmed that Drew has “a strong major in environmental sustainability, many environmental courses, a geothermally heated dorm [McLendon Hall], the certifiably green renovation of the E.C., zipcars, single-stream recycling, composting of dining hall wastes.”
“There are other things like: energy efficient lighting projects, earth-oriented theological school projects and programs, a student garden….the list goes on and on,” Webb said. “And Drew has very active student groups: Students for Sustainable Food, DEAL, TERRA and Earth House. We have a lot to be proud of.”
As a professor of both biology and environmental sustainability and as the director of the Drew Forest Preserve, Webb is feels proud about the recognition Drew has received.
“It’s a big honor for everyone who helped, from faculty families who planted trees to students who pulled up invaders, to the Board of Trustees, which committed the land for preservation to volunteers from Madison,” she said. “It is thrilling to see the forest recovering its natural structure and diversity. Already, lost wildflowers are returning and wildlife, such as woodland mice and flying squirrels, is recovering. I hope the award will bring more people out to the Drew Forest.”
Drew University students are also very happy to hear about the award. Addison Del Mastro (’15), an environmental studies minor, with a strong personal interest in environmental issues, said, “the news was awesome because at Drew we always talk about how we are environmentally conscious, it’s one of our major things here. But to get outside recognition, especially from the state itself, makes it clear that we’re doing a lot more than just patting ourselves on the back for ‘being green.’”