THE 8TH ANNUAL DELAWARE RIVER WATERSHED FORUM
FROM THE HEADWATERS TO THE BAY AND THE TRIBS IN-BETWEEN: STAYING CONNECTED AMIDST A PANDEMIC
The Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed, led by New Jersey Audubon and in partnership with National Wildlife Federation, held the 8th Annual Delaware River Watershed Forum virtually from September 14-17, 2020. With COVID-19 forcing the cancelation of the in-person Forum slated to be held in Philadelphia, the Coalition quickly adapted to holding the event virtually, and expanded the event to four days compared to the usual two days that was custom in past years.
Over 360 attendees were brought together from throughout the Delaware River Basin states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware! Out-of-basin attendees came from across the U.S., including California, Massachusetts, and Washington. Attendance was also varied by sector, with non-profits, government, academia, and businesses all being represented to collaborate and share knowledge with one another.
This year’s conference took on new meaning as we continue working toward a protected, cleaner, and more inclusive watershed even with the several roadblocks in our way. The 2020 Forum included a focus on the Delaware River headwaters in New York State, since we have never been able to host an in-person Forum there. Several of the 35 Forum sessions highlighted the Upper Delaware region, including a fly-tying demonstration with Trout Unlimited, an aerial tour of the Delaware River headwaters with Lighthawk, and an opening town hall with Representative Antonio Delgado (NY-19).
The Delaware River is the life blood of our communities, fueling our economies, bringing close to 400 Million dollars of value to our region every year. Creating jobs, providing for our watershed areas in New York, as well as the four states that rely on the river. And protecting the Delaware river has been a personal focus of mine during my first term in Congress… Right now, federal support for the watershed could not be more important, more vital as state and local governments are facing enormous, enormous deficits and communities are being asked to do more with less. We cannot allow Congress to lose sight of supporting the Delaware River Watershed and its value to our region.
— Rep. Delgado, Opening Remarks at the Delaware River Watershed Forum
Over four days, Delaware River Watershed Forum attendees had the opportunity to join sessions that included updates about on-the-ground conservation and restoration projects; skill-building for engaging in advocacy and public policy; state-based member sessions; and mechanisms for improving diversity, equity, and justice in the conservation movement. Other notable Forum speakers included Mike Slattery, Partnership Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife; Benita Hussain, Director, 10 Minute Walk, Trust for Public Land; Eric Stiles, President and CEO, New Jersey Audubon; and Randy Hayman, Commissioner, Philadelphia Water Department.
Another important focus of multiple Forum sessions included the need for racial equity and justice within the environmental conservation movement. Eric Stiles, President and CEO of New Jersey Audubon, explained that “In times of uncertainty we turn to nature. More people are spending time outside than ever. While the region is densely populated, it is also blessed with many parks and natural areas.
“From the Wild and Scenic Delaware River in the headwaters, to our urban gems like Petty’s Island and Fairmount Park, down to the largely preserved Delaware Bayshore. People can connect with and find joy, solace, and community in nature. Yet the cracks still appear. Access to safe, welcoming natural areas remains a privilege and not a right. Having drinkable, swimmable, and fishable rivers, that you can access, is not based on chance but largely income and race.”
By Olivia Le Warn, Engagement Coordinator, Coalition for the Delaware River Watershed