Corrections or additions?
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!’"
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
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
"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
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
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
"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,
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,"
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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