URI professor emeritus receives EPA’s Environmental Merit Award

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Peter August
Peter August. Photo by Joe Giblin.

KINGSTON, R.I. – September 10, 2019 – Peter August, professor emeritus of natural resources science at the University of Rhode Island, was presented with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Merit Award at ceremonies today in Boston. The award recognizes August’s outstanding contributions to protecting New England’s environment.

“This is a very humbling award,” said August, who retired from the URI faculty this year after 38 years of teaching and research. “I’m in the company of great people who I have a ton of admiration and respect for. I’m flattered that my colleagues in Rhode Island would nominate me and grateful to EPA for awarding it to me.”

A resident of Richmond, August was nominated for the award by Janet Coit, director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, who described him in her nomination letter as “an extraordinary person who combines scientific expertise, creative thinking, policy acumen and superb communications skills. His work at URI and as a volunteer has made a terrific positive impact at every level. As a teacher and mentor, Pete has influenced hundreds to get involved in science and conservation. As a volunteer, he has developed trails and protected land. As a visionary, he has developed new programs to support habitat and promote scientific decision tools that will benefit Rhode Island for decades to come.”

Trained as a wildlife biologist, August soon realized the value of digital mapping in environmental research and protection, so he championed the establishment of the Rhode Island Geographic Information System in 1985, which he describes as the electronic data behind the state’s inventory of map information.

“It’s the digital cartographic databases that include infrastructure data like roads and buildings, biological data like wetlands and endangered species, social data like demographic information, cultural data like historic sites and so much more,” he said. “It ensures that everyone with any need for mapping data is using the same data and the best data.”

August used his mapping expertise to establish the URI Environmental Data Center, which applies mapping technologies to address land conservation and natural resource management issues. He was also the first director of the URI Coastal Institute, which convenes scientists and stakeholders to improve public policies related to environmental management.

In addition, he was the founding president of the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, an organization of biologists, naturalists and others interested in biodiversity and natural history in the state, and he remains on its board of directors 25 years later.

August was appointed by Gov. Gina Raimondo to chair of the state’s Climate Change Science and Technical Advisory Board under the Resilient Rhode Island Act; he serves as the chair of the science advisory committee for the Watch Hill Conservancy; and he helped create the Rhode Island Conservation Stewardship Collaborative, an alliance of conservation organizations that stewards the state’s protected lands. He was also a long-time board member of the Rhode Island chapter of The Nature Conservancy and the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association.