Action Report: June/July 2006

How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference

06-01-2006 // NWF Staff

Connecting People With Nature
Federation strives to reinvigorate conservation movement by engaging public

"The modern child's distant connection to nature may represent the greatest long-term threat to conservation the nation has ever faced," says Kevin Coyle, NWF's vice president of education. To help combat this threat, the Federation and its 47 state affiliates are committed to providing not just youngsters but people of all ages with opportunities to learn about, interact with, and protect wildlife and wild places.

NWF's programs focus on a wide range of subjects, from safeguarding endangered species and protecting wildlife habitat to gardening with native plants and combating global warming. Encouraging outdoor play, engaging diverse audiences and promoting conservation-based community service (above) are among the organization's education objectives.

"It's important we return to our roots," says Coyle, "and embrace the natural world. Our planet's future depends on it." The following pages feature several examples of efforts by NWF and its affiliates to connect people with nature. For more, visit www.nwf.org.

Helping Hands for New Orleans
NWF's 70th annual meeting was planned for New Orleans long before the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In the storms' wake, the response NWF heard from affiliate leaders across the country wasn't "Where should we move the meeting?" but "How can we help?" Organizers of the mid-March gathering responded by offering the 350 or so attendees the opportunity to participate in restoration projects in and around the Big Easy. The goal: To help recover habitats special to both people and wildlife.

"It was good to get away from the nice environment of the hotel and actually see some of the impact the storms had," said Richard Mode of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. He and other volunteers said they were unprepared for the incredible damage--lost homes, denuded forests--done by saltwater intrusion. Getting outside to do some work after touring the ravaged city eased what NWF Campus Ecology® fellow Melissa Fries described as "a sense of helplessness."

Volunteers spread out to three locations--New Orleans City Park, Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge and Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve--where they cleared debris, planted vegetation, removed invading Chinese tallow trees and erected nesting boxes for wood ducks, among other chores.

"We got a lot accomplished," said Mode, "because planners prepared properly for the day and volunteers committed to making a difference."

Family Resource
Explore the wonders of wildlife and nature by visiting the "NWF: Kids & Families" website, which was recently awarded a Parents' Choice seal of approval: www.nwf.org/kids.

Home Sweet Home
Transform your backyard into a haven by providing local wildlife with food, water, shelter and places to raise young. For tips, visit www.nwf.org/backyardwildlifehabitat.

Concord Students Plant for the Blues
Endangered species is aided by conservation efforts of New Hampshire grade-schoolers

The Karner blue is the official butterfly of New Hampshire. Five years ago, it was deemed "lost" to the site that had been its only refuge in the state, the Concord Pine Barrens. Today, thanks to the efforts of dedicated schoolchildren and conservationists in the area, the endangered butterfly is making a comeback.

Since 2000, NWF, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and the Concord School District have collaborated on a classroom-based program aimed at restoring the butterfly and its habitat. Students, for their part, spend a few months each spring growing dozens of wild blue lupine plants, the exclusive food source of Karner blue caterpillars, in their classrooms. In late May, they transfer their seedlings to the pine barrens.

"It is really amazing to see the commitment and feelings of pride that these kids have when they plant their lupine," says Liz Soper, manager of regional education programs for NWF. "They know they are personally helping an endangered species and the emotion that shows on their faces is what this program is all about."

Last year, 190 wild adult butterflies were observed at the restoration site and more than 1,300 captive-reared adults were released.

A Night With Mother Nature
Families don't need to travel to exotic locales to experience the great outdoors and the wonders it has to offer. They just need to step out of their back doors, says NWF. To encourage such nature exploration, the Federation is inviting folks from across the country to participate in its second-annual Great American Backyard Campout on June 24. Last year, more than 32,000 campers pitched tents in their backyards (or in nearby campgrounds).

"It is such a special way to show your kids that they are worth spending time with," says Jan Morris, a first-year participant. "It helps you connect with them and makes wonderful memories for all."

To register for the event, visit www.backyardcampout.org. The website features packing lists, recipes, field guides and wildlife-themed activities.

Tribal Schools Welcome Wildlife
When Colorado's Southern Ute Indian Academy (SUIA) was certified as an NWF Schoolyard Habitats® site last fall, it joined the ranks of then 2,337 other schools. It also earned a distinction all of its own: It became the first tribal school in the nation to be so recognized.

"This was a major step in the expansion of schoolyard habitat projects into tribal communities," says Alexis Bonogofsky, associate coordinator of NWF's Tribal Lands Program, who uses SUIA as a model to inspire Native American educators. Currently, more than a dozen tribal schools are working to achieve certification of their school grounds as wildlife havens.

"These schools will use their habitats to connect Native students to their natural environment, their community and the traditions and cultures of their tribe," says Bonogofsky. "In the long term, we hope that these experiences will increase the number of Native Americans in environmental careers by promoting environmental stewardship." Learn more at www.nwf.org/triballands.

Summer Vacation
Whether you're the kind of nature lover who enjoys an adrenaline rush or the type who favors quiet reflection, there are activities for you at the NWF Family Summit. The outdoor discovery program is for anyone, young or old, who wants to explore unique natural areas and increase their environmental awareness. This year's summit will be held at Utah's Snowbird Resort, July 1-7. See www.nwf.org/summits.

Washington Women Walk on the Wild Side
One way to connect people with nature is to make nature seem less intimidating. Washington Outdoor Women (WOW), a program run by the Washington Wildlife Federation, an NWF affiliate, does just that: It offers workshops on outdoor skills such as fly fishing, gun safety and map and compass reading to women. Most of the course instructors are also women.

"When you bring all these women together there's such energy," says Ronni McGlenn, who helped found the group eight years ago. "This is such a great catalyst to get people outdoors and to invite them into a sense of stewardship."

McGlenn and her colleagues run a weekend-long workshop on the Snoqualmie River each September, offering nearly two dozen classes in which participants learn skills from archery to backpacking to preparing meals from wild plants. Dandelion pesto, anyone?

Next up for the group is a program--known as Wee WOW--that will allow women to bring their children and grandchildren along for wilderness training. It's a natural evolution, says McGlenn.

Outdoor programs like WOW are offered by affiliates across the country. For more information, see www.nwf. org/about/affiliates.cfm.

Teenagers Get Down to Earth
Service-learning programs foster environmental stewards of tomorrow

With the U.S. population becoming more ethnically and culturally diverse each day, America's ability to protect its wildlife and wild places is increasingly dependent on creating future generations of conservation stewards who reflect the country's rich diversity. One way NWF is helping to nurture such caretakers is by providing high school students in both urban and rural communities with programs that foster their leadership skills, introduce them to environmental careers and allow them to explore the natural treasures and conservation challenges in their own backyards.

"Kids need role models and opportunities to become engaged and see how they can make a difference," says Carey Rogers, director of education programs for NWF. Week-long, residential experiences known as Earth Tomorrow® Summer Institutes, conducted in communities all across the country, are the hallmark of the Federation's teen outreach efforts. Each one is built around a theme and designed to serve as a foundation for student-crafted service projects that take place during the academic year.

Last summer, for instance, activities in Houston were centered on "Watersheds, People and Wildlife" and included canoeing down Buffalo Bayou and planting cord grasses along the shoreline of Sweetwater Nature Preserve in Galveston Bay to help prevent erosion and improve the habitat of migratory shorebirds and other wildlife. At week's end, students resolved to engage in pollution-prevention activities such as storm drain stenciling to help protect these and other area waters.

Teens at last year's institute in south-central Alaska, meanwhile, focused on global warming, working side by side with scientists to understand its impacts on the land. Students calculated their "ecological footprint" and put together personal "Clean Energy Kits," equipped with items such as compact fluorescent light bulbs and low-flow showerheads, to help them reduce their carbon emissions. Currently, the teens are executing a statewide education campaign to raise awareness about global warming that they developed at the institute.

"I think it is important that youth should be heard," says Charlee Lockwood, a Native Alaskan from the village of St. Michael, "because we are growing up and we are the ones whom our Elders are starting to look to for carrying out our cultures and traditions."

Donate Your Time to Help Wildlife
Volunteers across the country contribute directly to the success of NWF's conservation efforts. They create habitat for wildlife in their communities, monitor populations of endangered species such as the whooping crane, and advocate for strong environmental legislation, among other activities. "They're at the heart of everything we do," says Melinda Hughes, manager of volunteer programs for NWF. "And we're always happy to welcome new recruits." If you'd like to lend a hand, consider the Federation's newest offerings:

  • Wildlife Literacy Ambassador--Helps promote literacy and environmental awareness by reading books about nature to children at libraries, schools and other venues. NWF provides a how-to guide and a list of recommended books.

  • Global Warming Ambassador--Provides outreach to general public, detailing how global warming affects wildlife and what individuals can do to combat its mounting tolls. NWF provides resource materials and volunteer certification.

To learn about additional NWF volunteer opportunities, go to www.nwf.org/volunteer.

Free Tuition
Attention, animal-loving web surfers: Free online classes that teach you about wildlife and wild places are just a few keystrokes away at NWF's Wildlife University™. You can navigate through the courses at your own pace. Each one contains expert presentations, downloadable study guides and recommended activities. For information about course subjects and registration, see www.nwf.org/wildlifeuniversity.

Practicing What NWF Teaches
Federation volunteer board member builds habitats with wildlife in mind

Members of the NWF Board of Directors offer the Federation more than advice and experience--they also serve as role models. NWF At-Large Director Beatrice Busch von Gontard exemplifies NWF's goal of connecting people with nature, both at home and in her Virginia community, where she's helping to establish a cross-curriculum program of outdoor education at a local elementary school. Students learn history from colonial farming, mathematical patterns from gardens and genetics from hybrid tulips. The school is also an NWF-certified schoolyard habitat. "I really want kids to appreciate the natural setting, to learn to protect what we have," she says. "That's what I love about NWF--it really highlights what you can do to make a difference in your community."

Busch von Gontard says she "grew up in a zoo"--her family, the Busches of Anheuser-Busch, created a wildlife preserve at the ancestral home. Fifteen years ago, she and her husband, Adie, bought a farm on the Shenandoah River and went to work turning much of their 1,400 acres into a haven for local wildlife. That meant planting natives and following strict rules about where and how they farm.

The von Gontards certified the property as an NWF Backyard Wildlife Habitat™ site and have been rewarded with booming wildlife populations. NWF Chief Naturalist Craig Tufts credits their practice of not mowing nesting pasture until young birds have fledged with helping to reverse the decline of bobolinks in the region. "Their birds," says Tufts, "likely represent the largest breeding population in Virginia--a population that is growing with Beatrice's careful stewardship."

Urging Colleges to Be Eco-Friendly
Campus program supports efforts to reduce global warming pollution

Students at the University of Oregon support the use of clean energy. They're even willing to pay for it. Last year, undergraduates voted in favor of a student-fee increase to fund the purchase of wind power for the student union, thus reducing campus greenhouse gas emissions by about 5 percent.

The University of Oregon is among the schools participating in NWF's Campus Ecology® program, which offers training, resources and networking opportunities to encourage colleges all across the country to curb global warming pollution. "By the end of this decade," says Kristy Jones, NWF's manager of campus climate action and education, "our goal is to have 1,000 campuses working to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 2 percent a year." Since 1989, Campus Ecology has been promoting the creation of eco-friendly projects on campuses, efforts ranging from recycling and energy saving to green purchasing and habitat restoration. Visit www.nwf.org/campusecology.

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