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STAFF PHOTO/BROOKE WILLIAMS A group of local college students hope to positively impact the environment. From left are Rebecca Muscat, Ty Sharrow and Erika Schwoyer.

When Rebecca Muscat isn’t happy with something, her solution is simple: change it.

“As a 12-year-old girl, I made that decision in my head that I was going to change how we impact wildlife and the environment,” she said.

By leaving her hometown of Belvidere, N.J. to study wildlife biology at Keystone College, she hopes to do just that.

The sophomore resides Keystone’s Living Learning Community for science with juniors Erika Schwoyer and Ty Sharrow, both of which share her desire to create a better world.

For Schwoyer, it began with a love and respect for animals, plus an affinity for outdoor activities.

Growing up, seeing environmental issues discussed in the news and online prompted her to take action and see how she could contribute to research and outreach.

“The idea of being able to contribute is interesting for me,” said Schwoyer, a wildlife and environmental biology major from Bethlehem. “It’s just really important for us to be able to educate more people about the impact that they’re having on the environment because people just truly don’t realize.”

An “endless fascination with nature” and a desire to further his understanding of it was the catalyst for Sharrow, a wildlife biology major from Lehighton.

“Realizing that our generation is going to be the leading people to affect change has been a big motivation for me to pursue it, and that we have the ability to directly affect change, science, outreach, everything,” he said.

In addition to staying active with environmental outreach on campus, the students also prioritize gaining real world experience through internships, research and citizen science projects.

Recently, Schwoyer returned from the Wildlife Society National Conference in Reno, Nev., which joined forces with the American Fisheries Society for the first time. The conference brings together professionals for presentations and networking.

“It was the biggest gathering of wildlife professionals in the country ever because it was the first time those organizations went together on a conference,” she explained.

The environmentalists recognize climate change brought on by areas such as water vapor and emissions of carbon and methane gas as one of the most pressing issues facing the planet.

Sharrow pointed out that climate change goes far beyond warming the atmosphere, influencing weather patterns and habitat structures, thus impacting all life on earth.

Increased air and water pollution, rising sea levels and less access to food were just a few of the impacts the students listed.

“Obviously if it’s human caused, the only way to mitigate it is by humans,” Muscat said. “That’s a big challenge I face and will continue to face, and everybody in the wildlife field will face as things change and we have to adapt to it.”

Single-use plastic also remains a detriment to the environment, they said.

“Just because of all the carbon it releases, but also the pollution and the litter it creates, which is bad for the overall health of the ecosystems, and also individual species,” Muscat said. “Plus, it saves money to not keep buying plastic.”

Schwoyer also noted the importance of conservation and managing endangered species, as the reduction or elimination of one species can set off a chain reaction that in turn impacts humans.

“It really is a major deal. Some species are more effective than others when they’re gone,” she said. “Human wildlife conflicts are what caused that a lot so I think we just need to do better with reducing them.”

For Sharrow, getting more people outdoors could hopefully increase their motivation to protect the environment, as these opportunities to enjoy nature could one day be lost.

“Be on the right side of history,” he said.

A call to action from Schwoyer is to pay attention to the news and stay educated about these topics with reputable sources.

“It shouldn’t be opinion based because there’s evidence behind it to support it, and overall, if you do anything to help the environment, you don’t lose anything,” Muscat said. “It never hurts to do better.”