DEVENS -- The new buzzword for environmental activists is outreach. People need to know and experience nature before they will become interested in preserving it.
"I want to talk about the people," said keynote speaker Dave Anderson during the Nashua River Watershed Association annual meeting on Nov. 29.
The host of the radio show "Something Wild" on New Hampshire Public Radio and director of education for the Society of Preservation of New Hampshire Forests gave a history of conservation in New Hampshire and where land-use activism is headed.
"We stand on the shoulders of those who founded" conservation associations, he said at the Devens Common Center.
NRWA founder Marion Stoddart provides one set of those shoulders. The Groton resident led the battle to clean the north branch of the Nashua River, one of the most polluted waterways in the country.
Her fight, begun in the 1960s, was successful. When she began, only sewage worms could live in parts of the river. Now, aquatic animals have returned and the river can be used for recreation.
The battle to protect land and water is not over though.
"We need to hustle. We need to fight," Anderson said.
Change in the way humans use the landscape is driven by economic needs, he said.
New England was almost completely deforested in the nineteenth century because of sheep farming and clear-cut logging.
For a time, textile mills demanded the sheep's fleece; paper mills needed the spruce.
The "sheep fever" was over by the 1850s but the trees were gone.
Fires raged through the denuded areas, carrying smoke from the White Mountains to the heavily populated areas of Southern New Hampshire.
But is was not a demand for a beautiful vista that drove the formation of wilderness preserves under the Weeks Act in the early 20th century, it was commerce.
Those fires were a problem. Allowing trees to grow near the headwaters could eliminate some of the danger.
The forest cover grew back, some under the management of the federal government.
Communities have to decide what to protect, Anderson said.
He called on the words of Massachusetts politician Tip O'Neill: "All politics is local."
For environmentalists, the phrase could be "All conservation is local," he said.
Engaging the community is a challenge. Education and outreach is a way to connect the future generations with natural resources, he said.
"I use wildlife as a proxy. It's hard to get people excited about a little white pine in a coffee cup," he said.
Instead, he concentrates on the animals that live in the environment like deer, bear, osprey and bobcats.
The NRWA has expanded outreach programs, said Elizabeth Ainsley Campbell, executive director.
Youths and adults, over 10,000 people, took part in NRWA environmental programs this year.
Ongoing school programs and new outdoor fitness walks have helped a new group of people to get comfortable with being outside.
A circuit rider visits each community in the watershed yearly and the website has been redone, allowing easier access to the NRWA for more people.
The association also monitors water quality throughout the watershed and partners with other organizations and business to protect land and waterways.
"Our work today must look to the future stewards," Campbell said.