Corrections or additions?

This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the June

6, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Business & Nature Forge a Profitable Merger

Coming soon to a corporate campus near you: screech

owl boxes, wetland shelves teeming with fish and reptiles, tall native

grasses, maybe a fox or two, and possibly even some hunting and

controlled

burns. Our largest corporate citizens are going wild. Cheered on by

environmentalists, the businesses are trading in their signature

sprawling

lawns, complete with requisite picture-perfect ponds, for landscapes

that seek to re-create New Jersey as it looked before farmers drained

the land to plant potatoes and corn.

It doesn’t take much hunting to turn up the fact that the largest

landowners in Central Jersey are corporations. It is not unusual for

a corporate site to cover 300 to 500 acres. Where farmers planted

crops just one or two decades ago, corporations now sow desks and

parking spots. And the change, strangely enough, could be net positive

for the environment.

This is so because corporations, unlike farmers, do not necessarily

need to drain the land and clear away forests, marshes, and other

natural habitats to make room for crops. Many do the clearing anyway

to create those dazzling green lawns, but a movement is afoot to knit

some wild features into the seamless, short-cropped green blankets.

"One hundred and fifty acres of mowed grass is not a good

idea,"

says Mike Hodge, a wildlife biologist with non-profit Wildlife Habitat

Council, an organization, started by corporations, whose mission is

to bring some wilderness to the corporate campus. "Lawn is a

monoculture,"

explains Hodge. "It is just one species, and it never comes to

seed. It never produces a food source."

Vast corporate lawns provide no cover either, making them too

dangerous

for most small animals. In addition, Hodge says, the lawns, containing

no plants or tall grasses to hold water, create considerably more

run off than do more varied landscapes. Sediment from the lawns is

carried into nearby streams along with the fertilizer and pesticides

used to keep them green. The result can be an algae bloom and a

reduction

in oxygen, both conditions that make it hard for fish and amphibians

to live in the water.

The Washington Crossing Audubon Society is sponsoring a talk by Hodge

on Tuesday, June 12, at Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Hopewell campus.

Companies

large and small are invited to hear him speak about how to replace

the standard-issue corporate lawn with wildlife habitats, and why

doing so is a good idea. Barbara Ross, an Audubon board member, is

organizing the seminar. She says: "We look at all of these vast

greenswards, and think of all the motor exhaust, unnecessary labor,

and watering to keep them green. And of all the pesticides and

fertilizer."

She says she doesn’t think the corporations are "deliberately

violating the environment," and that they will respond positively

if educated about the importance of maintaining diverse ecosystems

around their offices. "Partnership with the Wildlife Habitat

Council

is perfect for us," Ross says. "We lack credibility with the

corporations, but they have prestige as well as expertise."

The Wildlife Habitat Council has been sewing weeds in corporate lawns

since 1988, when it was founded by seven corporations, including

DuPont,

General Electric, Vulcan Materials, and Exxon. The organization has

a staff of 20, including eight wildlife biologists, and is

headquartered

in Silver Spring, Maryland. It receives grants from government

agencies,

foundations, corporations, and individuals, and charges corporations

a fee for assessing their lands and drawing up a wildlife plan. To

date, the Wildlife Habitat Council has worked with, and certified,

more than 300 corporate sites belonging to 110 companies.

To earn the certification, corporations must meet rigid criteria.

"There has to be improvement to the habitat, and it can’t be just

one thing," says Hodge. "They have to see the habitat as a

whole." Native plants must be used, and volunteers must be

recruited

from within the corporation. The community must be involved as well.

Only after a year of work can a corporate site be considered for

certification,

and if it doesn’t continue with its plans, certification will be

yanked,

as it was recently for a Central Jersey pharmaceutical, that, says

Hodge, "just didn’t do anything."

The Wildlife Habitat Council has worked on wildlife habitat projects

at no fewer than 23 corporate sites in New Jersey, including 3M in

Belle Mead, Williams Gas Pipeline in Lawrence, and Bristol-Myers

Squibb

in both Hopewell and Lawrenceville.

One of the Wildlife Habitat Council’s shining stars in New Jersey

is Merck, and that corporation demonstrates both ends of what is

possible

on a corporate campus. "Merck has a relatively new corporate

headquarters

in Whitehouse Station," Hodge says. "It is a perfect example

of what a corporation can do. There is almost no mowed lawn. For a

world headquarters, that is unusual." At that location, Merck

has above ground parking "for maybe 30 cars," Hodge says.

The rest spend their days in underground garages while wildlife

frolics

above.

During construction, Hodge says, Merck dug up a number of big trees,

took them out, put them in a specially-created on-site nursery, and

then replanted them. Other trees, in the center of the new octagonal

building, were left in place during construction. "I’m surprised

they were able to accomplish that," Hodge says of the salvation

of so many mature trees. "I’m sure there was a large cost, and

lots of complaining from the contractors." The result, he says,

is a magnificent natural environment, both for wildlife and for

employees,

and lower lifetime maintenance costs as well.

Not every corporation can accomplish what Merck did at Whitehouse

Station, Hodge is quick to point out, but he says even the smallest

projects have real benefits. At Merck’s facility in Rahway, for

example,

he says the corporation is adding a butterfly garden. In that

highly-industrial

location, not much more is possible, but Hodge says even a small

garden

helps out song birds and butterflies, and it gives employees ideas

for making their own lawns more hospitable to wildlife.

Even as the Wildlife Habitat Council, and local organizations,

including

the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association, work on de-lawning

corporations, it is important to point out that a number of local

business sites have long cultivated a more natural habitat. Ross,

the Audubon Society board member, calls the Forrestal Campus’ woods

and streams "exemplary," and says the same of Bristol-Myers

Squibb’s wildflower meadow on Scudders Mill Road and ETS’s extensive

woodlands. "It’s not only pretty," she says of ETS’s property,

"but it does a good job of maintaining the integrity of the

land."

George Hawkins, director of Stony Brook-Millstone

Watershed

Association, the Pennington-based non-profit nature reserve, organic

farm, and environmental education group with a particular interest

in Stony Brook and the Millstone River, praises Sarnoff’s woods and

FMC’s stewardship of its land. The Millstone River runs through both

corporation’s campuses. Hawkins leads canoe trips down the river,

and says "Turn the corner at FMC, and you would think you’re in

the backwoods of West Virginia. It’s an absolute gem." Rivers

and streams are vital to the health of the entire area, and Hawkins

says the Millstone, which runs through the high-density Route 1

Corridor

is especially important. "Sarnoff in the past has worked at

keeping

the Millstone viable," Hawkins says. "They are very strong

in preservation, but now they have all sorts of development

plans."

Hawkins says his organization has had many talks with Sarnoff centered

on its plans to add a high-tech incubator and other structures to

its lands that run along the Millstone River, not far from Route 1.

"One of their plans had hotels and conference centers going

farther

in the woods than we liked," Hawkins says. As of now, he says,

the issue is "under discussion."

Preserving vegetation buffers along rivers and streams cleanses

run-off,

allowing fish and amphibians to thrive. Preserving water sources also

is important to human inhabitants of Central Jersey. "The ability

to have clean, plentiful water relies on a sustainable ecology,"

Hawkins says. Focusing on expansion at the expense of rivers and

streams

is foolish and short-sighted. "We’ve already had several

significant

droughts," Hawkins says. "Anybody who looks at the landscape

in New Jersey sees how many more people are using that water."

Battles over who gets to use water are already common in the West

and could occur here if we are not careful to encourage everyone,

and particularly the corporate citizens who control so much of the

land, to be protective of water sources. Says Hawkins: "We don’t

want to get in a situation in three years where we need to impose

draconian measures to preserve water."

The Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association is in the early stages

of creating a River Friendly Business program that is similar to the

work the Wildlife Habitat Council does. The association is presenting

at the June 12 seminar, and Hawkins says that occasion will be

important

as a kickoff for the program. To date, his group has worked on one

corporate site, the Hopewell campus that Bristol-Myers Squibb is

building

on the 433-acre former Mobil campus.

Mary Beth Koza, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s associate director of

environmental

health and safety, has worked with both Stony Brook-Millstone and

the Wildlife Habitat Council on making that campus an unusually

diverse

environment. The site features a two-mile nature walk, a mixed oak

forest, a wetland dominated by canary reed grass, a stream, 193 acres

of farmland on which corn is grown, two ponds, and, yes, a lawn.

Koza, a 1979 graduate of Kean University, where she majored in

chemistry,

holds a master’s degree in pharmaceutical science from Fairleigh

Dickinson

University. She joined Bristol Myers Products in 1979, and says her

career in environmental protection began the next year. "The

federal

resource recovery rules came onboard in 1980, and I was the youngest

person with a degree in chemistry, so my supervisor said `Learn

them’."

Remaining in the environmental protection field, Koza became so

passionate

about the subject that neighbors began calling her a tree hugger.

A city kid from Elizabeth, whose mother grew up in New York City and

whose father was second in charge of Penn Station, Koza credits Earth

Day, as well as chance, with her career development.

"I was 12-years-old on the first Earth Day," she says. "I

was impressionable." Now, she says, the "fun part" of

her job is enhancing wildlife habitats, while at home, in Colonia,

she says she is known as the "crazy environmental lady" who

keeps her lawn green organically and collects the neighbors’ batteries

for recycling.

This carry over of environmental sensitivity from work to the

community

is one of the main goals of the Wildlife Habitat Council, which

absolutely

insists that corporations with which it works involve employees in

creating and maintaining their lands. It will not certify a site

unless

employees are the major movers behind projects. Hodge, the Wildlife

Habitat Council biologist, says getting and keeping volunteers in

the I’m-stressed-to-the-max era is the biggest challenge, bar none,

that corporations face in creating wildlife habitats.

So why insist? The answer boils down to a form of pollination.

Involved

employees become passionate, Hodge says, and their enthusiasm carries

over to their neighborhoods, local Scout troops, and recreational

activities. "You get people who relish the outdoors," he says.

"Bird watchers, gardeners, hikers. You can have ownership. If

you just contract it out, you’re missing a lot of the value."

Most people, he says, don’t have 500 acres at home, and many relish

the opportunity to do something that makes a difference on a grand

scale.

That certainly is the case with Koza, and with the volunteers she

has enlisted at BMS’s Hopewell site. She started a Get Wild at Work

Team last year, and it now has 20 members. To date, they have

constructed,

put up, and maintained nesting boxes for blue birds, wood ducks, and

screech owls. Next on the agenda is the creation of an Adopt a Stream

program, through which employees will repair the site’s riparian

buffer

by pulling out exotic plants and planting native species.

"The volunteers have better ideas than we could have come up

with,"

she says. Many walk the grounds at lunch time and send out e-mails

if they see a situation that needs attention. "We have one

gentleman,

Phil Wall," Koza says. "He’s a woodworker. He made all the

bird boxes. He gave us the initiative. I just supply the wood."

Wall, who works in BMS’s regulatory compliance department, is typical

of the kind of employee dedication and ownership that both the

Wildlife

Habitat Council and Stony Brook Millstone say is so important.

Koza says, however, that BMS has not relied solely on non-profits

and on volunteers in creating a plan for its Hopewell campus. Local

professionals, including March Associates of Princeton, have worked

on a landscape master plan for the site. One of the big challenges

is water.

This corporate site, unlike most in the area, operates on well water

and surface water, and handles its own waste treatment. "We’re

our own little city," Koza says. There is no feed from a city

water system, and no further expansion is possible without more water.

The site, which is home base for some 1,600 employees, plans to meet

its water needs by expanding its ponds and creating a wetland shelf

around them. Such an environment is ideal for small animals and for

plants that tolerate intermittent flooding. And it is good for humans

too, essential, in fact, if they want to preserve their ability to

drink water and flush toilets during the work day. "When there’s

a storm, that’s where the water will go," Koza says of the wetland

shelf.

Other area corporations could use similar methods to conserve water,

but to date have had little incentive to do so. "New Jersey is

behind the times in understanding wetland issues," says Koza.

"In industrialized areas, the water has always been there."

Turn the tap, and out it comes. So far. Koza has visited the

University

of Florida to see how that state, where rapid development has led

to shortages, recycles the precious resource.

Water is one of the big reasons for encouraging

corporations

to cultivate diverse ecosystems on their lands, but there are others.

Simply because they control so much land in areas like central New

Jersey, corporations become important in enabling animal migration.

Without pathways through the area — often from corporate campus

to corporate campus — animals become trapped. "This habitat

fragmentation has led to isolated populations that are

overpopulated,"

Hodge says.

In addition to creating migratory routes, corporations, as they stake

out more and more land, become important as nesting sites and hunting

grounds for all manner of birds and animals. By inviting nature into

their land holdings, corporations can preserve the ecosystem, and,

in fact, can enhance it by introducing native plants that were ripped

out to make way for farms. They can also, Hodge says, improve employee

morale. "Most people like to hear the birds," he says. "It

lends a certain comfort factor."

One bird that seems to cause a good deal of discomfort, however, is

oh-so-familiar Canadian Goose, a prime example of what happens when

vast tracts of land are made inhospitable to most species. For while

the wide-open monoculture that is the corporate lawn is distasteful

— frightening even — to most birds and animals, geese purely

love it.

"Geese are a big issue everywhere in the East," Hodge says.

"Geese are big and relatively lazy, and they love lawns."

Grass is the most succulent of foods to a goose, and after a good

meal the big birds like nothing better than a short waddle down to

a nice pond. It takes a lot of energy for a goose to fly over a stand

of tall grass or a line of shrubs to get to the water, and so the

gently sloping corporate lawn with absolutely nothing waving beside

its waters, is a perfect habitat. Geese also favor the corporate life

because the lawns surrounding so many office buildings are wide open,

giving predators nowhere to hide.

Some corporations — including BMS, at its Lawrenceville campus

— hire "geese police," men with trained dogs, to keep

the geese, and their ubiquitous excrement, away. Others, says Hodge,

"fire off cannons." A better solution, in his view, is to

plant a buffer between lawns and ponds, encouraging a variety of

animals

and birds to take up residence, and making life too inconvenient for

the geese.

Beyond showing corporations how to create a goose-unfriendly

workplace,

the Wildlife Habitat Council encourages a wide range of projects aimed

at making a difference. "We’re doing real things," Hodge says.

When it first consults with corporations, the organization conducts

research to determine what the land was like before it was farmed.

This "varies significantly" throughout a state like New

Jersey,

says Hodge. Once a natural portrait of an area emerges, his

organization

recommends native plants that will provide the food and cover

indigenous

wildlife need. Where there once was wetland, the Wildlife Habitat

Council works at encouraging it again. In the East, Hodge says, some

75 percent of all wetlands have been filled in, and few things are

more important than reinstating them. Sometimes dams are recommended,

but in other cases, he says, "It’s almost as simple as

digging."

Beyond reinstating wetlands, the Wildlife Habitat Council has

encouraged

corporations in 45 states and 10 countries to complete diverse

projects,

including tree planting, the creation of wildflower and butterfly

gardens, visitors centers, and trails. It works with corporations

on endangered species management, environmental education, land

reclamation,

and brownfield restoration.

This is not just bunnies and chipmunk stuff. The organization

encourages

serious wildlife management, including controlled hunts, with

employees

doing the hunting, when one species becomes overpopulated. It also

sometimes recommends fires as a way of clearing out underbrush.

And Hodge admits that not everyone is thrilled to see croquet-court

perfect lawns turned into wildlife habitats. There are fears of lyme

disease and wild animals, and, he says, it is often the surrounding

community, and not the corporation itself, that is resistant to ending

lawn rule. "Seek community involvement," he urges corporations

contemplating a return to nature. "Don’t do it behind closed

doors."

Wildlife Habitat Council, using education and a little gentle coercion

of its own, is sewing marsh grasses through the corporate community

one company at a time. Noting that New Jersey is "a little hotbed

of pharmaceutical companies," Hodge says getting into one company

in an industry helps bring others onboard. Employing an animal

cunning,

Hodge says, "Competition never hurt anyone."

— Kathleen McGinn Spring

The Washington Crossing Audubon Society sponsors a talk

by Michael Hodge of the Wildlife Habitat Council on Monday, June 11,

at 8 p.m. at the Pennington School’s Stainton Hall. The title:

"Bringing

Conservation from the Countryside to your Backyard." Free. Call

609-730-8200.

The program for businesses on "Enhancing Corporate Lands for

Wildlife" is Tuesday, June 12, from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the

Hopewell campus of Bristol Myers-Squibb. E-mail

seminar@washingtoncrossingaudubon.org

or call 609-924-2683.

Corrections or additions?


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