Jamaica Bay Guardian, Don Riepe, Shares Environmental Stewardship Strategies

Don Riepe’s love of nature has been evident since his childhood in Ozone Park in the 1940’s.  In this era, the neighborhood was a rural haven just outside of the bustling industry of New York City where Don chased butterflies and served as a Boy Scout.  He recounts the conversion of a nearby hundred-acre farm to accommodate the expanding Aqueduct Racetrack, a sign of more urbanization to come.  Never straying far from his roots, Don is now an earnest civic leader who is passionate about preserving Jamaica Bay’s shoreline and the species that inhabit it.

Don spent nearly a quarter century working for the National Park Service after receiving a graduate degree in natural resource management.  Early in his tenure, he became a Jamaica Bay resident.  Don observed the migration patterns of birds in the area and grew increasingly concerned about the amount of debris found on the coastline.  He became an organizer of efforts like the annual International Coastal Clean-Up Day, where volunteers remove and record the types of debris they find, and recycle items accordingly.  Since 1986, this event has grown from serving four New York City beaches to more than three hundred shorelines in New York State and the Great Lakes area; an estimated 10,000 volunteers participate each year.

In 2002, Don retired to devote more personal time to environmental stewardship.  He now directs the Northeast chapter of the American Littoral Society (ALS) and serves as the Jamaica Bay Guardian.  He leads monitoring services including debris removal and illegal crabbing reporting, and oversees the creation of nesting structures for migratory birds like ospreys and raptors.  Since Don has taken on these roles, the number of nesting pairs of these birds has increased significantly, with Brooklyn and Queens housing the largest population of the endangered barn owl.

Under Don’s leadership, ALS participated in the passage of the Bigger Better Bottle Bill, a move that broadened the original Bottle Bill to include a deposit tax on bottled water in order to increase the number of beverage containers that are recycled annually.  ALS also partners with organizations like the Surfrider Foundation, a group that is working to protect oceans and beaches through efforts like campaigning to eliminate single-use plastic bags.

Don believes that organizations like our co-op are contributing to environmental conservation efforts by buying local produce.  He appreciates the prevalence of simple techniques employed on small farms, such as using organic fertilization methods and growing low hedge rows, which protect the land and wildlife.  He adds that an increase in the number of small farms will mean more job creation and more socialization within farming communities.

FFC shoppers can learn more about the conservation efforts of Don Riepe and his colleagues by attending quarterly meetings held by the Friends of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and by participating in one of four 2012 Earth Day Clean-Ups planned for Brooklyn and Queens.  The group also hosts boat tours, including the Jamaica Bay Sunset Ecological Cruise, during the late spring and early fall.  Our co-op hopes to host an event in collaboration with Don and the Friends of Jamaica Bay in the coming months.  Look for postings of upcoming events in our store and on our website (www.flatbushfood.coop).