Local teen commits to protecting the environment, joins township environmental commission

Mackenzie Gehringer, a Clearview junior, takes steps to increase local awareness of environmental issues; looks to study sustainability in college.

Special to The Sun: Mackenzie Gehringer, Hailey Carson, Lauren Robitaille and Nina Fedoryka of Clearview participated in the New Jersey Envirothon at Camp Grice in Elmer on Saturday, May 5. The team competed against other schools from all across the state in this hands-on natural resources problem-solving competition.

Clearview Regional High School chemistry and environmental science teacher Maureen Huhman is working at the grassroots level to create big change in her students. As an environmental advocate, she wants her students to “have an awareness,” she said, of everyday activities that affect the earth. Her efforts as a teacher and the leader of the school’s environmental club are showing signs of success, especially in junior Mackenzie Gehringer.

Gehringer says she’s been interested in all things environmental for many years and is looking to study sustainability in college when the time comes.

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Referencing multiple human-made environmental hazards such as trash island, also known as “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” an ever-growing floating mass of plastic in the Pacific Ocean, Gehringer said, “It all sticks with me, and I don’t want to be the cause of that.”

Recently, Gehringer has done two things to promote environmental awareness in others and even increase her own: partake in the New Jersey Envirothon and join the Harrison Township Environmental Commission and Green Team.

Envirothon took place in May at a campsite in Elmer and more than 30 high schools across the state competed. During the day-long competition, students were presented with tasks that tested their knowledge of New Jersey natural resources and current environmental concerns both locally and globally. The areas of competition included aquatics, forestry, soils, wildlife and more.

A week leading up to the competition, participants were given an environmental issue for which they had to devise a solution and present in front of career environmentalists on the day of the event. Part of the project required the students to study multiple processes of protecting rangelands and grazing management techniques.

Gehringer said she enjoyed learning about livestock rotation and the detrimental effects of overgrazing.

During the competition, students also learned ways to identify bird calls, how to determine the amount of lumber that can be obtained from individual trees and more.

“Envirothon is a good opportunity for [students] to meet people in the field and decide if that’s the kind of job they want in the future,” Huhman said.

Clearview has taken part in Envirothon sporadically since 2005. The school, for a time, disbanded its environmental club but Huhman helped bring it back in recent years.

As for the Harrison Township Environmental Commission and Green Team, Gehringer joined recently and hopes to link the township and school’s environmental efforts.

The Green Team, a group of appointed township Environmental Commission volunteers, is in its second year of operation and recently earned bronze status from Sustainable Jersey, a nonprofit that provides tools, training and financial incentives to support communities in pursuit of sustainability programs. There are 450 participating communities in the state, with 200 certified.

While Gehringer is happy to say her high school is considering recycle audits and a composting program, she wants to reach more people and prove that simple actions like recycling “only take a few seconds,” she said.

Clearly learning from her teacher, Gehringer said, “Many people are just not aware of how their everyday activities affect the environment.” She also urged that humans, as a whole, are too comfortable with single-use items such as paper towels, stating she is attempting to move her household away from using such items.

“I like the idea of zero waste… the idea of making everything environmentally friendly,” she said.

For more information about the Harrison Township Environmental Commission and Green Team, visit http://harrisontwp.us/boards-commissions/environmental-commission/.

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