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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the February 19, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Environmental Attitude Adjustment

Environmentalists are destroying the environment by

continually shouting "`You’re destroying the environment!’"

So says Rich Pais, an environmental consultant with the Scranton,

Pennsylvania-based Ecoscientific Solutions.

If this is hard to follow in print, it is somewhat more difficult

to grasp — at least at first — by talking with Pais. The Hazlet

native speaks approximately six times more quickly than your average

New Yorker — and with maybe 10 times as much animation. Friendly

and eager to share his message, Pais is agreeable to slowing down

if asked, and when he does so he makes a good case for his position.

A charismatic speaker with an unending supply of unexpected statistics,

Pais speaks on "Integrating Nature into the Built Environment"

on Thursday, February 20, at an all-day event beginning at 9 a.m.

at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve in Washington Crossing. Other

speakers are Marcha Johnson of the New York City Parks and Recreation

Department, Larry Weaner of Larry Weaner Landscape Design, David

Harper of the National Lands Trust, and Randolph Heffner of Aquascaper

Unlimited. Cost: $70. Call 215-862-2924.

Pais, who grew up "in Bruce Springsteen country" with a standard

issue suburban yard, got hooked on the outdoors when his parents went

in with three families of relatives on the purchase of a place in

the Poconos. Pais took to the new environment immediately. He strapped

on a backpack, started exploring, and decided by age 14 that he wanted

to build his career around the out-of-doors. He studied natural resource

management at Rutgers (Class of 1982) and earned a master’s degree

in forest science from the University of Kentucky in 1987.

From his first job — managing deer, bear, and grouse for the Pennsylvania

Game Commission — Pais knew he that, though his title was wildlife

biologist, he was in the woods not only because of the animals, but

because of the humans who would come to visit. "My mentors —

at Rutgers and in Pennsylvania and in Kentucky — all taught me

that managing wildlife revolves around people," says Pais. "Everything

revolves around people, or why do it?"

This perspective explains why Pais is impatient with environmentalists

who spend their days wringing their hands, pointing to housing developments,

roads, and office parks as the unalterable, unstoppable ruination

of nature.

"Do they try to work with developers?" Pais asks, his tone

making it clear that this is a rhetorical question. Many environmentalists,

in Pais’ opinion have left the room, preferring criticism to positive

action.

He prefers to take a different tack.

Pais is sure that if environmental consultants would go to developers

and say "do less grading, make your roads narrower, reduce your

front yard setbacks," that the developers’ response will be "`Great!’"

This is so, he points out, because each of these potentially nature-enhancing

steps saves developers money. Show the builders how to cut costs,

and they will embrace the plan. This is especially so, he adds, because

respecting the environment can be an excellent sales tool.

Pais tells of one developer who created a walking trail through woods

on his property by putting down wood chips — a relatively easy

and inexpensive proposition. Then he brought in a local 4-H group

to put up bird houses. On Sundays, when potential home buyers were

out in force, he asked the 4-H youngsters to give them tours.

Another developer dug up hundreds of native trees during construction,

moved them to a temporary safe haven, and then planted one in the

yard of every completed home — and advertised that he was doing

so. Both developers reaped positive publicity, and in all probability

sold their homes more quickly, and perhaps for more money.

"A house on a wooded lot sells for 10 to 15 percent more,"

says Pais. What is even more important for developers, he says, is

that such houses sell more quickly. While there are not yet any statistics

on the effect of putting up bird houses in the woods or replanting

native trees, it is a good bet that these measures also enhance appeal

to buyers.

For while Pais says the majority of Americans declare that "`where

I live and work destroys habitat,’" they are, at the same time,

busy enjoying that habitat right in their own yards. "Sixty percent

of the population feeds wild birds," he gives as an example. Add

in the number of people who "visit, see, or enjoy" wildlife

in their neighborhood and the figure jumps to 70 or 80 percent.

Pais rolls out one of his most interesting statistics when he says

that this huge contingent of homebody tree huggers dwarfs the number

of people who go to parks to enjoy nature. That number, he says, is

just eight percent.

"The environmental community has to stop saying `we’ve destroyed

the habitat,’" says Pais. It needs to start saying "`we’ve

changed the habitat,’" and then needs to do something about enhancing

that habit.

"In a perfect world, we would work with architects," says

Pais. "This is a not perfect world."

The world that is New Jersey is even less perfect than most. For while

some states, Maryland prominent among them, get involved in development

issues at a state or a county level, encouraging, for example, the

retention of tree canopies over new roadways, New Jersey operates

on a township level. "That makes it much harder," says Pais.

"There isn’t the level of sophistication among developers. It’s

`get me out fast!’"

It is the environmental consultants’ job to educate these developers,

and Pais finds the situation rife with promise. "We have to take

baby steps," he says. Replacing the ugly, concrete wastewater

collectors that are a feature of nearly every housing and office development

into something far better is not hard, he gives as an example. A marsh

serves the same purpose, and planted with cat tails and tall grasses

it attracts song birds, butterflies, and ducks. "It becomes a

place where kids can catch frogs," says Pais. An attractive addition

to a property, the marsh also is a money saver. "Sixty percent

of a maintenance budget is spent on cutting grass," he says.

Likewise, turning condominium common spaces and office park grounds

into fields of wildflowers is an inexpensive way of attracting wildlife

while cutting costs. "You just throw down a different kind of

seeds," Pais says.

He also applauds the new tendency of homeowners to turn their yards

into gardens, and chuckles when he talks about what is driving the

movement. "Nursery men are saying `I can sell the bejesus out

of these plants if I call them butterfly bushes,’" he says. Moved

to a section of the nursery reserved for plants that attract birds

and butterflies, the greenery, which in the past might have languished,

sells briskly.

Contact with nature, at least in its tamer manifestations, is what

people want. Giving it to them is sound business.

Discovering in just what form humans want their nature is not necessarily

common sense, though. And therein lie many construction mistakes.

Understanding the species’ behavior takes the kind of observation

Jane Goodall brings to the world of chimpanzees.

Pais’ Scranton-based firm, Ecoscientific Solutions (570-496-1000),

conducts such field work in a number of settings, including many senior

living facilities. What Pais and his colleagues find when they first

visit these facilities is nearly always a "white concrete, car-oriented"

space, often with a flower bed. "There are always flowers,"

says Pais.

What could be wrong with flowers?

"You can have the most beautiful flower bed," he says, "but

how much time do you spend looking at it?" Better to bring the

tree line up close to bedroom, dining room, and sitting room windows.

This wilder habitat draws all manner of animals and birds. "They

see a woodchuck, forget about it!" exclaims Pais. "Add baby

woodchucks, and you have it all — life, death, romance, mating."

The gardens Pais’ firm does plant feature native plants, the better

to lure the natives, as well as heirloom gardens to stimulate memories.

"We’ve done 20 Alzheimers gardens so far," he says, "and

every one is different."

In a senior facility, and especially in a nursing home, life often

constricts. "All you have is a window," observes Pais. The

more exciting the life beyond that window, the better.

Static flower beds provide little stimulation, but parking lots can

be worse. "You can’t walk without being next to a parking lot,"

says Pais. The asphalt often runs right up under bedroom windows,

shortening the walk visitors have to make to get into the facility.

If there is a walking trail, it is often too far away, and often without

the amenities that would make it attractive, things like shade and

benches. Pais says it is common for nursing homes that have such trails

to bus their more mobile residents to a mall, where they walk before

the stores open. Far better, in his opinion, to put in a "safe,

accessible trail that allows for social interaction."

His firm provides these retrofits, and also takes on sitting areas.

"I’m blown away by the number of architects who say seniors need

privacy," he exclaims. "They put courtyards where they can’t

see the comings and goings of visitors. They try to screen the front

door. For what? Why would seniors want privacy? These are isolated

people." Pais and his associates, after consulting with the seniors,

site common areas closer to the action.

Whether a human is over 90, or is new to the planet, he craves a connection

with the earth, and with others of his own kind. Where these relationships

once played out in the forest or the prairie, for many the backdrop

now is the development, the office park, or the shopping center.

This is not all bad, says Pais, pointing out that, for instance, the

purple martin has been saved by bird boxes. Development and the environment

can co-exist. "It is the responsibility of environmental consultants

to change the system," he says. "They have to find a way to

make it work."


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