What is a Bio Blitz? A Strategy for Stewardship

By Kevin FitzPatrick,
Conservation Photographer, iLCP Senior Fellow

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Bio Blitz: a short, intense team effort to discover as many different life forms as possible in one location; shorter-duration, smaller-scaled versions of All-Taxa Biodiversity Inventories (ATBIs) [See Glossary below article.]

A Bio Blitz compasses all that I want to communicate to my audience about conservation and biodiversity, and it’s a wonderful way to communicate with students and adults about science. It offers young people a chance to try their hand at identifying species, photography, sketching wildlife, writing about nature or discovering the natural history of their own area. No two Bio Blitzes are the same, as each one is a reflection of the local environment. It is an opportunity for youth to enhance their appreciation of the environment through photography, art and exploration, and to engage in true “citizen science.”

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With the iNaturalist Mobile Application, the Encyclopedia of Life’s Species Collections allows participants to document species and upload observations to a collective map available freely online. Bio Blitzes connect photographers with scientists who help them find species. This experience gives photographers the ability to expand the range of species in their files.

So many of us only focus on mega-fauna and common species, forgetting the big picture (or maybe the little picture). I am talking about butterflies, beetles, insects of all sorts, frogs, salamanders, snakes and, yes, slime molds! As the BioBlitz Concept begins to takeoff around the country, there’ll be a greater need for these kinds of images. Over 100 parks and refuges around the country now promoting Bio Blitzes, so you can likely take advantage of this great opportunity in your area.

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I have shot over 115 Bio Blitzes from Maine to California with the approach of a conservation photographer. My purpose is to shoot a way that people can see the species present with all their beautiful, close-up detail and color. When this happens, perceptions change and these species take on a new life in the minds of the viewer. They are seen as an asset and part of their world! Thus, Bio Blitz is much more than just a concerted effort to identify the species that live in chosen location. It is a celebration of nature and the many wonderful forms that exist in any given place. When people of all ages and professions come together to take a closer look at their local wildlife, a tangible excitement builds.

Bio Blitzes are powerful tools for environmental education, conservation and community engagement, representing experiential learning at its best. Bio Blitzes images highlight species diversity and offer positive experiences within local ecosystems. When conservation integrates art and science, it merges different but valid ways of perceiving and experiencing the world.  Merging means of direct participation in Bio Blitzes may challenge or blur the artificial boundaries marked by our training.  But what biologist isn’t stirred by theprofound, and what artist doesn’t sense geometry in mystery?

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At our core we are humans. The head and the heart are inseparable.  And so, a compelling story about conservation interprets the intersection of human history, emergence of an ecological conscience, and biological integrity.  A Bio Blitz is an opportunity to experience that intersection directly.

I have worked with a larger-scale, longer-duration ATBI [All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory] in the Smokies since it started almost 20 years ago. We have found over 1,000 new species. While in-depth, scientific ATBI’s are now starting up all across the country, the benefit of Bio Blitzes is that they are all-inclusive. Any one gets to go and play a part. Kids, parents, and grandparents – you name it!

I have worked with scientists for years and know how most people see them. To counter those preconceptions, Bio Blitzes allows people to work hand and hand with scientists in the field while in your element! Participants see how engaging, passionate and fun they are to be with. Also many younger scientists are excited to see the general public get in involved in science. I have worked with National Geographic on Bio Blitzes at Saguaro National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Jean Lafitte National Historical & Preserve, Golden Gate National Park, and The Mall in Washington, DC. At each one, the public was totally engaged and had over1000 kids attending!

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GLOSSARY [“From ATBI to Bio Blitz”]

ATBI: an intense inventory of all taxa to the species level to the degree possible in a single site, followed by on-going further inventory as needed by specific taxa and in-depth basic and applied biodiversity research and development (Janzen and Hallwachs 1994).

Bio Blitz: part rapid biological survey and part public outreach event bringing together scientists and volunteers to compile a snapshot of biodiversity in a relatively short amount of time (Karns et al. 2006; Lundmark 2003). It is not intended to be an exhaustive inventory, but can contribute to a more comprehensive ATBI effort in the future.

Biodiversity. The variety of living organisms considered at all levels of organization, including the genetic, species, and higher taxonomic levels, and the variety of habitats and ecosystems,as well as the processes occurring therein (Meffe and Carroll 1997).

Citizen science. Citizen science refers to participation of the general public as field assistants in scientific studies (Cohn 2008; Irwin 1995). Volunteers may have no specific scientific training,and typically perform, or manage, tasks such as observation, measurement, or computation.

Inventory. Natural resource inventories are extensive point-in-time surveys to determine the location or condition of a resource, including the presence, class, distribution, and status of biological resources such as plants and animals. Inventories are designed to contribute to our knowledge of the condition of park resources and establish baseline information for subsequent monitoring activities (NPS 2008).

All photos provided by Kevin FitzPatrick.

It’s Not Easy Being a Horseshoe Crab in New York Harbor

Blog by Joe Reynolds, Coastal Naturalist

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Photo by Joe Reynolds.

Intro by Alison M. Jones, NWNL Director: To honor last week’s Endangered Species Day, we’re posting Joe’s blog on horseshoe crabs which are “Near-Threatened” per Endangered Species International.

My children grew up on Long Island Sound mesmerized by the spring tide of these prehistoric, armored invertebrates. Since they’re now rarely seen on those shores, I couldn’t resist a bit of further research and adding some Editorial Notes!

Author and coastal naturalist Joe Reynolds is also an activist — and he can count. NWNL applauds his monitoring of these “upside-down skillets with tails.” I look forward to joining his next full-moon count in Raritan Bay! Check Joe’s blog with pictures, video and stories of wildlife from Sandy Hook Bay, Raritan Bay and Lower New York Bay: http://www.nyharbornature.com

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“Selfie” provided by Joe Reynolds.

WHAT’S HAPPENING UNDERFOOT?

Watch where you step this spring! Horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) are beginning to crawl ashore on beaches around Sandy Hook Bay, Raritan Bay, Jamaica Bay, and other shallow estuarine sites around New York Harbor. They mate on full and new moon evenings in May and June.

Yet another spawning season for horseshoe crabs has commenced, an annual rite of spring that goes back 450 million years. For Jurassic Park movie fans, that’s 230 million years before the first dinosaur! [Ed note: They even survived the Permian extinctions when 95% of all marine species disappeared.)

Known as “living fossils,” horseshoe crabs are harmless, ancient creatures effectively unchanged through time. Horseshoe crabs are more closely related to spiders and scorpions than to crabs. However, as marine arthropods, they are really a prehistoric family of animals unto themselves.

In late April, horseshoe crabs begin to migrate from deeper ocean waters into estuaries to breed. First on the beach are often males, waiting for available females. What follows is like a primitive singles bar, minus a colorful tiki bar. But alcohol isn’t needed here.

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Photo by Joe Reynolds.

When a single female crab crawls out of the surf, she releases chemical cues called “pheromones” that help attract a breeding male. He then grasps her from behind with special appendages shaped like tiny boxing gloves on the end of his front walking legs. With her male in tow, she moves through the intertidal zone – a beach area that is above water at low tide and under water at high tide. There they deposit and fertilize 60,000 to 120,000 lime-green eggs in batches in wet sand.

In 2 to 4 weeks the eggs hatch. The size of a human fingernail, the young are a near–replica of an adult, though tail-less. The small crabs head straight to the water where they will grow in sandy shallow areas of the estuary. It takes 8 to 12 years for a crab to sexually mature and migrate back to bay beaches to breed.

 

THE VALUE OF HORSESHOE CRABS

Who would guess horseshoe crabs are critical to migratory shorebirds? But, yes, the fatty eggs of horseshoe crabs provide an important food source for many migratory shorebirds, including red knots (Calidris canutus), ruddy turnstones (Arenaria interpres), and sanderlings (Calidris alba), as they pause in their northward journeys to breed in the Arctic.

[ED Note: The red knot (part of the sandpiper family) makes one of the longest migrations of any bird: 15,000 km (9,300 mi) from Tierra del Fuego in S. America to the Arctic. On their mid-Atlantic stop, they re-energize and fatten up by feasting on what was a superabundant supply of horseshoe crab eggs. Red knots were numerous in N. America until masses were shot in the 1880’s. With further declines since the 1960’s, they are a “threatened species,” per the Endangered Species Act. So healthy horseshoe crab populations are critical to red knot survival. (Citation: http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/red-knot)]

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Red knot. Photo by Dick Daniels, in Creative Commons.

STEWARDS STUDYING THEIR DECLINE

Although the world’s largest spawning horseshoe crab populations are in Delaware Bay, the busy New York Harbor has crabs too. Few people welcome them; but those that do, know when and where to find them by the dozens, hundreds, or even thousands along the shore.

Our Bayshore Regional Watershed Council is an environmental group dedicated to improving water quality and restoring the wildlife habitat of Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook Bay. Since 2009, our volunteers have counted horseshoe crab populations along the southern shore of NY Harbor in Monmouth County, NJ. Our goal is to note their spawning population and ascertain if it is stable, increasing or decreasing.

 
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Volunteers tagging a horseshoe crab to monitor its New York Harbor location. Photo provided by Joe Reynolds.

So far our study shows a horseshoe crab population that is less than robust. There’s been a steady decline in adult females. In 2009, the Watershed Council counted 495 female crabs (singles and mating) across 1,000 feet of beach at five sites in Raritan and Sandy Hook Bays. Yet, in 2016 only 217 female crabs were counted at the same sites. (Ed: minus 50% in 7 years). The single female population decreased from 96 to 15 during this time period. (Ed: minus 85%)

Surprisingly, male populations are growing. In 2009, there were 679 male crabs at monitoring locations (single and mating) in Raritan and Sandy Hook Bays. This increased in 2016 to 1,016 (Ed: plus about 75%). The single males also increased: from 251 to 769 (Ed: plus 300%)

This great inequality between sexes affects their spawning. It takes two to make a baby! Swimming pairs (crabs seeking a place to lay eggs) decreased from 265 in 2009 to 130 in 2016 (Ed: minus 50% in 7 years). Burrowed pairs (crabs in the process of laying eggs) decreased from 276 to only 50 pairs in 2016. (Ed: minus 80%)

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Lemon Creek Park, Staten Island, NY, on the Raritan Bay. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

HUMAN OVER-HARVEST of HORSESHOE CRABS

What could cause such a dire decline in females? Humans and money, of course. Increased harvesting of horseshoe crabs in NY waters threatens their population. NY is the only state on the U.S. Atlantic Coast without a horseshoe-crab harvest moratorium during their breeding period.

Females are repeatedly harvested more than males since they are about 30% bigger and thus have more meat. Adult females also often carry eggs, which will make better bait.

Since 2009, NY State’s commercial quota for horseshoe crabs has been around 150,000 crabs. Some come from NJ’s Raritan Bay and the south shore of Long Island. But an undetermined amount of crabs in NY Harbor are being harvested illegally.

In 2013, two men from Brooklyn were arrested for stealing 200 horseshoe crabs from an island locally known as the Ruffle Bar in Jamaica Bay, Queens. They were charged with taking wildlife without a permit and disturbing wildlife breeding practices in a National Park.

On April 30, 2017, a woman was arrested in Jamaica Bay for illegally harvesting 7 horseshoe crabs. She told U.S. Park Police she was harvesting crabs for her business. The body parts of horseshoe crabs command a high price in some parts of the world since they are considered an aphrodisiac for men.

Horseshoe crabs are also used as bait for the American eel and channel whelk (aka conch) which are highly valued by Asians and Europeans. U.S. harvesters use body parts of female horseshoe crabs as bait for eel and whelk. Thus female horseshoe crabs are supplying global seafood needs. In 20 years, the price for 1 horseshoe crab has jumped from 25 cents to over $5.

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Photo by Joe Reynolds.

Horseshoe crabs are also harvested by the medical industry for their copper-based blood which turns blue when exposed to air. Horseshoe crab blood has remarkable antibacterial properties that insure no impurities exist in medicines. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all intravenous drugs, vaccines and medical devices that come in contact with the human body (i.e., replacement hips, hearts, knees or pacemakers) to be tested by crab’s blood for bacterial toxins associated with toxic shock syndrome, meningitis and typhoid. Millions in the US survive each year due to the clotting characteristics of horseshoe crabs’ blue blood.

Unfortunately medical benefits for humans don’t benefit the crabs. Horseshoe crabs are to be caught; bled with about 30% of their blood taken; and then returned to waters where they were found. But according to author Alexis Madrigal, “Between 10 and 30 percent of the bled animals, according to varying estimates, actually die.” In addition, “bleeding a female horseshoe crab may make it less likely to mate, even if it doesn’t kill it.” (The Blood Harvest, The Atlantic, Feb 26, 2014)

Environmental scientists John Tanacredi and Sixto Portilla say many crabs taken from NY waters to be bled are often not returned to NY. Research on horseshoe crabs from Brooklyn to Montauk from 2003 to 2014 showed that numerous crabs harvested in NY and taken to MA to be bled were often released in local Cape Cod waters, not NY as required by permits. “Many of those animals are re-harvested for bait and sold back to NY fishermen at an average cost of $5/crab.” (Horseshoe Crab Biology, Conservation and Management, 2015)

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South Beach on Raritan Bay Estuary, Staten Island, New York. Photo by Alison M. Jones.

IMPACTS OF HARVESTING HORSESHOE CRABS

It’s not an easy life in New York Harbor. The legal and illegal harvesting of horseshoe crabs, especially females, has limited their distribution and breeding, resulting in localized population declines. Horseshoe crabs could disappear locally if nothing is done to safeguard them in NY waters.

NJ instituted a moratorium on harvesting horseshoe crabs in 2007, but not NY where people can still harvest crabs. This puts the crab population under severe threat in the Lower New York, Raritan and Sandy Hook Bays.

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Tagged horseshoe crab. Photo by Joe Reynolds.

YOU CAN HELP!  

Please email both Governor Cuomo (click here) and the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (click here) to ask for greater protection of horseshoe crabs. NY State must restrict harvests in local waters, especially of female crabs. We need Albany to protect these prehistoric animals — before it’s too late.

Also, please share the plight of horseshoe crabs with friends and family. The more who are aware of the threat to horseshoe crabs, the more likely we can ensure their survival in the Raritan, Sandy Hook and Jamaica Bays.

If greater awareness and public support is coupled with greater conservation efforts, then these Ancient Mariners of New York Harbor can fill the beaches for many spring seasons to come. Let’s make sure they endure for another 450 million years!

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Fisherman at confluence of eastern shore of Cheesequake Creek Inlet with Raritan Bay, Raritan River Basin, New Jersey. Photo by Alison M. Jones. 

NWNL Recommended Reading:

 Safina, Carl. The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2011. One hundred miles east of NY’s Manhattan, the author found a beach house that let him “see the whole world in the view from Lazy Point” – or at least the whole beauty and connected magic of the natural world in which we live. In this renowned conservationist’s observations and pleas for us to adopt a “sea ethos,” he tells of spawning, antedeluvian horseshoe crabs, bluefish, sea ducks and menhaden. He also weaves in tales from afar of brown bears and coral reefs to further deepen our appreciation of nature.

Sargent. Bill. Crab Wars: A Tale of Horseshoe Crabs, Bioterrorism and Human Health. Lebanon NH: University Press of New England, 2006. Social justice and ethics are raised by human medical needs for the blood of these crabs that evolved 300 million years ago. This is a tale of the conflicts between scientific progress and our dwindling natural resources.

For children, Grades 1-4: Crenson, Victoria. Horseshoe Crabs and Shorebirds: The Story of a Foodweb. New York City: Two Lions, 2014. With charming watercolor illustrations, this book shares nature’s amazing connections between a small red-chested bird from the southern tip of S. America with the salty eggs of large, armored crabs on mid-North Atlantic beaches.

Joe Reynolds Recommended Reading:

Fredricks, Anthony D. Horseshoe Crab: Biography of a Survivor. Washington, DC: Ruka Press, 2012.

Cramer, Deborah. The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, An Ancient Crab & An Epic Journey. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.

McCully, Betsy. City at the Water’s Edge: A Natural History of New York. New Haven, CT: Rivergate Press, 2006.

Waldman, John. Heartbeats in the Much. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2000.

MacKenzie, Clyde L. The Fisheries of Raritan Bay. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992. 

Dakota Pipeline – A Cautionary Tale

Native American tribes and others from all over the country have joined the Standing Rock Sioux to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline [DAPL]. The proposed pipeline would cross 4 states carrying natural gas extracted via horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing [aka fracking] from North Dakota Bakken Oil Fields to Illinois. The complaints focus on the traditional values of our rivers, which we shouldn’t belittle. Our rivers provide sustenance (fish and medicinal plants), clean water to drink, and a spiritual and cultural refuge.

The specific concerns about this 1,172-mile pipeline begin with DAPL’s construction methods that would violate Sioux treaty agreements and desecrate their sacred areas. Once constructed, any leakage from the 30”diameter pipe (just under 3 feet of soil mostly) would threaten contamination within a large 4-state swath of the Missouri River Basin. Ruptures or spills could contaminate agricultural areas, roads, rivers, lakes and streams.  In arid areas damage to groundwater resources would be devastating.

The Native Tribes protesting at Standing Rock are getting the most media attention on this issue – especially those on horseback. Yet they certainly aren’t the only ones who would be affected by a DALP environmental catastrophe. The global issue is that there will eventually be greenhouse gas emissions from this oil, increasing everyone’s vulnerability to global impacts of climate change – floods, droughts, increased severe weather events, and sea level rise.

The local issue is that the Dakota Access pipeline will would carry 570,000 barrels of oil per day across 50 counties of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.  It will cross under two tributaries to the Mississippi River: The Des Moines River and the Missouri River.

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Too frequently there are pipeline spills. The Riverkeepers website addresses the risks of transporting crude oil with an annotated list of recent crude oil pipeline ruptures and spills.

RECENT NOTABLE CRUDE OIL PIPELINE ruptures and spills

April 2016 Freeman SD 
A spill of 16,800 gallons of tar sand oil

May 2015  –   Santa Barbara CA
143,000 galloons of crude oil released, and 21,000 spilled into Pacific Ocean

Jan 2015  – Yellowstone River MT
Drinking water contaminated by 31,000 gals of oil spilled into frozen river

Dec 2014  Belton SC
Over 300,000 gallons of gasoline spilled

Oct. 2014 – Caddo Parisih LA
Pipeline killed wildlife as it spilled over 4,000 barrels of crude

Oct. 2013 – Smithville T
Pipeline spilled 17,000 gallons of crude oil

Sept. 2013  –   Tioga, ND
Over 20,000 barrels crude oil leaked into a wheat field

Mar. 2013 – Mayflower ARK
Rupture of 100’s of 1000’s of gallons of heavy crude into neighborhoods

Jul. 2010  – Kalamazoo River MI
Rupture oiled 40 miles of river with heavy crude bitumin

If an accident like any of the above were to occur along the DAPL, it could affect the Missouri River or any of its tributaries along the route. These streams provide a resource upon which 18 million people depend upon for clean drinking water.  A spill could also impact crops, prairie habitat and residential communities.

The fracking that produces the crude oil to be carried by DAPL releases less greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than burning coal – however, the use of natural gas puts much more CO2 into our atmosphere than other new sustainable energy sources. NWNL urges the implementation of renewable, sustainable green energy like solar panels, wind powered turbines, and wave energy.

Solving the negative impacts of this oil pipeline at this late date is problematic.  It is unfortunate that in this century business and governmental decisions are too often made without enough honest and transparent risk analysis.  We should listen more to the Native Americans protesting this pipeline who come from a heritage of analyzing impacts seven generations in the future before committing to risky ventures.

A ruling on the Sioux’s lawsuit with the Army Core of Engineers is expected to come out today. NWNL hopes it will be one small step in resolving the ongoing controversy over big oil and environmental conservation.

 

Earth Day is a Positive Day

Blog by Alison M. Jones, NWNL Director

For conservation photographer Gary Braasch, who authored Earth Under Fire, every day was Earth Day. Here are his words, taken from our 2011 NWNL Interview on Climate Change with Gary.

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“OK, change your light bulbs — BUT then change the laws.”

“We have so many tools – hundreds of technologies that can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. What we are missing is the political movement.”

“Each person needs to talk to their neighbors; get involved in politics; learn basic facts about climate change and how it affects their community and the nation; and be willing to talk about it.

“The history of environmental protection is a HISTORY OF SUCCESS. We are all living healthier lives; the air is cleaner; and the water is cleaner, despite all the issues we still have. That’s because of the laws we put in.”

As Gary said, each of us must believe we can make a difference.

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HAPPY EARTH DAY!

Signs that you are an Environmentalist

New Jersey, Raritan River Basin
New Jersey, South Branch of the Raritan River

Have you ever posted about Climate Change on social media?

Do you care about animals and their habitat?

Have you used the word “sediment?”

Have you ever talked about soil in casual conversation?

If you answered YES to any of the above questions, think about becoming a Rutgers University Certified Environmental Steward. No previous environmental training is necessary. Anyone with an interest in the environment and a passion for creating positive change in their community can become an Environmental Steward thanks to this upcoming lecture series.

You will get training in:

New Jersey, stream water monitoring training
New Jersey, stream water monitoring training

•Soil health
•Climate change
•Habitat protection & restoration
•Stormwater management
•Energy conservation
•Geology
•Invasive species
•Municipal planning & ordinances
•Volunteer Monitoring
•Civic Science

The program is designed to give participants a better understanding of local issues that are important and to improve their own watersheds. Special focus will be on the Lower Raritan River Basin and invasive species management.

The program will be conducted at multiple locations in New Jersey.  It will include 60 hours of lecture and a 60-hour internship.  Classes will be on Wednesday evenings starting January 27th at 6:30 pm, continuing through June. The program is $250.00.  More info on the program website here.

Pass this along to folks who may be interested! It’s a great program!

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

Beautiful new book on the Raritan River

No Water No Life applauds Dr. Judy Auer Shaw on the publication of her new book, “The Raritan River: Our Landscape, Our Legacy.”  For 8 years, NWNL has observed the power of Judy’s outreach upstream and downstream along the Raritan.  Her personal passion for this river and local stewardship has brought together residents, scientists, industry and other stakeholders in a ground-breaking effort to restore the services and legacy of the Raritan River to the State of New Jersey for future generations.

Check out NWNL expedition photos featured in the book and pre-order it here!

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About the Author: Judy serves as an Advisor for NWNL. She is a researcher at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University, where she also leads the Sustainable Raritan River Initiative. This initiative earned the Somerset County Regional Planning Award in 2010. In addition, Shaw has received the Elwood Jarmer Award for Environmental Leadership. Read her full bio here.