Residents in Connecticut, and worldwide, were encouraged to join Earth Day observances on Sunday, April 22, to help reverse the deterioration of our planet.

“I’m a lifelong tree hugger myself,” said Milford Mayor Ben Blake. “We had a lot of Earth Day projects and volunteer activities planned not just for this weekend but also for the next couple of weeks and last weekend Briarpatch Enterprises, Inc. spearheaded a big cleanup by Gold Beach and Gold Pond. This week the Town of Milford, Public Works and volunteers are participating in the Housatonic River Cleanup, next weekend is the annual MacKenzie Beach Cleanup.”

“We only have one earth, we have to protect it and make sure Milford stays clean and green,” said Blake.

The first Earth Day was held in 1970 after damage done in 1969 due to a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Environmentally conscious groups have been advocating ever since against devastating oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife.

Earth Day has continued to grow over the years and in 1990 went global with 200 million people in 141 countries participating. By the year 2000, 5,000 environmental groups and 184 countries supported the mission focused on global warming, clean energy and reducing pollution. Today, more than one billion people across the globe participate in Earth Day activities.

Residents were encouraged to begin with efforts in their own backyards. “One of the easiest ways to help is to get involved,” said Patrick Comins, Connecticut Audubon Society Executive Director. “We have the Coastal Center in Milford which is really a gem in the state. There are nesting Piper Plovers and nesting Least Terns, it has 800 acres of salt marsh and the place definitely needs more friends. Taking care of the very important natural resources in your backyard and in your town is one way to help.”

Additional suggestions include, “If you have a yard, planting native plants, trees and shrubs into your landscaping can make the habitat better for native insects and native birds and can help to reduce the footprint of the impact you are having on the habitat around you,” said Comins. “We are as reliant on a healthy environment as the wildlife is. We need clean air and water and healthy environments, getting outside is healthy psychologically as well, we need green spaces to get out to. Milford is so lucky being right at the mouth of the Housatonic River, you have Silver Sands State Park, you have the Coastal Center at Milford Point, Mondo Ponds, it’s really an amazing town to live in and is a place where you can appreciate the wonders of nature in Connecticut. There are nesting Herons and Egrets on Charles Island as well, which is very important.”

Daphne Dixon, co-founder and executive director at Live Green Connecticut explained, “Each year 8 million metric tons of plastic goes into the ocean. As individuals, we all have the power to make a difference by eliminating the use of plastic in our lives as much as possible. We also need to help educate those who are unaware of the risk factors associated with plastics. Live Green Connecticut (www.livegreenct.org) is committed to Zero Waste Communities and has launched a cleanup program called “Start in Your Own Front yard” to educate community members and help clean up plastics from our neighborhood streets that would otherwise go down the storm drains and end up in the ocean.”

“Additionally,” said Comins, “be sure to recycle including the plastics you’re using, try to be as energy efficient as you can be, use clean energy whenever possible. There are also organic ways to manage your lawn in a green way where your lawn can become a part of the habitat. Incorporate shrubs and trees, let the clovers and the violets come up in the lawn - they’re beautiful and they can help fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, be sure to test your soil before you add fertilizer (free soil testing is available at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station), what you put on the ground does end up in the Sound if it’s in excess of what it needs.”

“If people are using fertilizer, they can be more conscious about how much they are using and try to stick with organic fertilizers which tend to be more of a slow release fertilizer, also pay attention to the weather,” said Peter Linderoth, Water Quality Program Manager at Save the Sound. “If it’s going to rain the day after you fertilize, maybe hold off on that because the rain is going to wash fertilizer to the closest river, creek or stream and it causes pretty harmful effects on those and then makes its way to the Sound and when it all is aggregated causes some serious issues we want to avoid.”

“Smart fertilizing use goes a long way,” continued Linderoth. “Go with organic fertilizers, think about when you’re going to apply it and also go with native plants in your yards which tend to do well without excessive fertilizing, add rain gardens which are beautiful and retain water so it doesn’t flow into the waterways, so serves a dual function. Go the beaches and pick up trash you see, use reusable organic cotton produce bags/grocery bags (eliminate plastic bags altogether) and support farmers markets.”

“People should be ecologically aware of the consequences their actions have beyond those intended,” added Comins. For example regarding pesticides, “When you poison a rat, that’s a way to kill off some of the natural predators of the rodents too (hawks, cats).” Linderoth said, “Pesticides are designed to kill things, excessive pesticide application may kill (poison) the targeted species but they also are toxic to most all living things including people and pets.”

The Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (www.ct.gov/deep) suggests, “Whether you live in the city or a small town, house, apartment or condo, you can prevent pollution, save money, protect the environment and your health through the choices you make every day.”

Comins, Dixon and Linderoth encourage the community to get involved with their local groups and societies. “Let’s think about Earth Day everyday with this planet that we all share, call it Earth Year every year,” said Linderoth. Connecticut

Audubon is hosting the First Annual Migration Madness Bird-a-thon May 18-20 (www.ctaudubon.org).