On September 29, more than 250 policymakers and job seekers gathered at the 8th Annual Massachusetts Green Careers Conference held at the DCU Center in Worcester. BU City Planning and Urban Affairs (BUCPUA) Adjunct Faculty Professor Eugene Benson, JD addressed the entire crowd and also led a smaller breakout session. Benson compelled the audience to pursue the best job within the environmental planning field – municipal conservation agent.
Passionate degree candidates in the #BUCPUA Program assess the social contexts and economic structures that influence the management of fragile open spaces, such as wetlands. The #BUCPUA Program provides students with high-demand tools and pertinent skills to excel as environmental planners. Relevant course offerings include UA 521 Environmental Law, UA 617 Applied Sustainability, UA 654 Geographic Information Systems for Planners, and UA 629 Urbanization and the Environment. Students can complement their Master of City Planning or Master of Urban Affairs degree with a Certificate of Applied Sustainability.
Aside from teaching law to #BUCPUA students, Benson is the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association of Conversation Commissions (MACC). MACC’s tenets include advocacy, education, and conservation, and it is the state leader in providing education and training to more than 2,500 conservation commissioners. Benson urged participants to fully grasp the wetlands crisis in the United States, as half the country’s wetlands have disappeared since settlement by Europeans. This loss of wetlands has exacerbated flood conditions, particularly in states like Iowa, which has lost 80 percent of its wetlands. Wetlands perform invaluable functions by buffering floodwaters, capturing carbon, and providing habitats that sustain biodiversity.
As municipal conservation agents, citizens have a direct stake over the protection and management of these vital, yet vulnerable, areas that envelop land, water, and biological resources. Conservation agents attain full-time positions that support and guide all-volunteer municipal conservation commissions. On average, volunteer conservation commissions experience a 10 percent annual turnover, which underscores the value of a municipal conservation agent who can create a stable foundation for long-term planning and land management.
At the state level, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, and Massachusetts Regional Planning Agencies also offer full-time positions that directly influence the protection of open spaces. Qualifications required for state or municipal conservation agent positions include a thorough understanding of environmental law and superb communication skills that conform when influencing different stakeholder groups. Organization skills, creativity, and flexibility also help conservation agents preserve open spaces against myriad external factors, including impacts of climate change and ongoing economic development.
Aside from teaching law in the #BUCPUA Program, Professor Benson also instructs courses at the BU School of Public Health.
– Courtney Thraen (MET ’17)