Earyn McGee Honored with National Conservation Young Leader Award

RESTON, Va. — The National Wildlife Federation honored Earyn McGee, a PhD candidate in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona, with the National Conservation Young Leader Award for her efforts to bring more Black women into conservation careers.

Growing up in Inglewood, California, McGee showed an early interest in science and animals. Her current research focuses on the impacts of climate change on lizards in the Southwestern United States. She is passionate about field research, herpetology, and social justice. In response to the racism faced by Black birdwatcher Christian Cooper in the Central Park birdwatching incident, McGee co-organized Black Birders Week. This effort led to the founding of Black AF in STEM, a collective of young Black scientists studying and helping others become engaged in the outdoors and nature by showing interest in the life sciences.

“Engaging communities of color in wildlife conservation and life science is crucial to ensure that every voice is heard in our community’s efforts to conserve species,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “Earyn’s commitment to removing barriers that prevent Black women from entering natural resources careers and her remarkable efforts to inform and excite people about reptiles are what make her an exemplary young leader, truly deserving of this award. Her amazing social media from #FindThatLizard and #BlackBirdersWeek to her chronicles of her amazing research in the field is inspiring the next generation of conservationists and recognizing the incredible leadership of Black women in science.”

“Throughout my academic career, I have had so many mentors and so much support,” McGee said. “I just wanted to give back. I'm honored that my efforts have resonated with so many and to be receiving this award. Thank you!”

McGee is the creator of the popular social media trend, #FindThatLizard, which she created to teach people interesting lizard facts and to give them a greater appreciation for reptiles. This led her to be named one of ten influential women in science communication by Popular Mechanics in February 2020. She has also been recognized for her efforts among Forbes’ top 30 Under 30 scientists in 2021. Among her many other awards and recognitions, McGee has served her community as a Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program graduate mentor where she applies her knowledge and skills to help increase the diversity of scientists engaging in conservation work.

After she graduates, McGee aspires to host a natural history TV show to teach people about animals and showcase Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color doing important conservation work.

The National Wildlife Federation Conservation Achievement Awards began in 1966. Since then, the National Wildlife Federation has celebrated individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to protecting wildlife through education, advocacy, communication and on-the-ground conservation. Previous honorees have included former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, First Ladies Lady Bird Johnson and Michelle Obama and other national leaders, including U.S. Sen. John McCain and filmmaker Robert Redford.

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