There is speculation that the State of New Jersey will be fully built out within thirty or forty years – the first state in the nation to have this distinction. In anticipation of this, land trusts, county governments and municipalities have been purchasing land to conserve it for New Jersey’s citizens and wildlife. Thousands of acres are held by state and national parks, the Garden State Preservation Trust was created to conserve "a million acres," and private owners are protecting their land with conservation easements.
These are positive steps towards the creation of a sustainable ecology in this densely populated state, but they're only a beginning. Little or no public funding has been provided for the management of conserved lands for biodiversity. This funding gap must be filled by the creation of an ever-growing group of citizen volunteers. They can advocate the stewardship of public lands from positions on municipal environmental commissions, planning boards, and zoning boards, and from county and state government, but they must be trained.
Rutgers Cooperative and Research Extension has formed a partnership with Duke Farms, the Atlantic County Utilities Authority and others to create a statewide Environmental Stewardship certification program. Volunteers will learn land and water stewardship, best management practices, environmental public advocacy, and leadership. Twenty-five to thirty students will be enrolled at strategically chosen regional locations in the state. Each group will meet twenty times for classroom and field study. They'll be taught by experts from Rutgers and its consortium partners. Students will be certified as Rutgers Environmental Stewards when they've completed sixty hours of classroom instruction and sixty hours of volunteer internship. Northern classes are currently conducted at the the Warren County office of Rutgers Cooperative Extension, central classes will be held in Somerset County at Duke Farms, classes in the coastal region will be held at the Atlantic County Utility Authority. Others sites may be used from time to time. Consortium partners will be able to ask students to provide volunteer assistance in the satisfaction of their internship requirements.