I understand some people’s general disdain for list posts: “7 ways to…”, “10 reasons why…” I capitulated for this post, but it is at once a plea for others to get involved in conservation and some suggestions for easy ways to start. As a hunter, issues around conservation are always on my mind and I find myself constantly worried that I’m not doing quite enough. I also often think about how to talk about conservation with people who may not think about and prioritize it as I do. Part of striving to be a good conservationist often involves some element of advocacy, the effort to convince others that they should care and the attempt to recruit people into this conservation task. To do so effectively, we need to be able to provide the public with accessible ways to join the conversation that fit their lifestyles and abilities.
In many ways, North Americans are still celebrating the range of wonderful conservation successes that we have collectively achieved over the previous century. In other ways, we find ourselves at a juncture in time during which we are facing a number of serious threats to the future of healthy wildlife and ecosystems. A recent report from WWF-Canada found that half of Canada’s wildlife species have declined since 1970, including mammal, fish, bird, reptile, and amphibian species. Not small declines. On average, species have declined 83% in that time period. Continued declines in healthy habitat, including wetland destruction, affect all North Americans in the form of reduced clean air and water.
I’ve also heard many people express a concern for conservation issues. On my more optimistic days, I’m uplifted by the belief that people do care about clean air and water, abundant wildlife, and healthy wild places. To encourage this care, we often think, “if only we could educate the public.” However, science is also well aware that there is a weak link between increased education, changing attitudes, and behavioural changes. Unfortunately, it takes more than information to create behavioural change. So as conservationists, we need to go beyond simply providing information and create wider awareness about ways people can become involved personally in conserving North America’s habitats.
Here are three general categories of ways you can become involved in conservation and a number of specific steps you can take in each category.
Stay Informed and Educated
I commented that education is not sufficient to create behavioural change. Education is, however, a necessary step in behavioural change. As a first step to contributing to conservation, we need to be informed. The way we deliver our messages to audiences is critical to meaningfully informing those audiences and encouraging them to care. The best way to stay informed is to access current scientific research. Research relevant to conservation takes place all over the world, every day, by thousands of dedicated researchers. The perception can sometimes be that this research-based knowledge is too complex for non-experts or inaccessible to the general public, but this isn’t always the case. Staying informed about this science is key to understanding the foundations of conservation and how to help. Where can you find accurate information?
The primary outlet researchers to disseminate the results of their work is in scientific journals, collections of articles published periodically. Unfortunately, many scientific journals require paid subscriptions or affiliations with an institution (such as a university) that has a subscription. While this prevents the majority of the general public from accessing these articles, there are many scientific journals that make their articles free to the public, known as open access. Finding these open access journals can provide an immensely valuable source of information about wildlife and conservation issues. A quick Google search for “open access conservation journals” will give you a list of places to start. Some journals are completely open access while others offer authors the option to publish their work in open access formats. This means that when you find a journal that supports open access, not every article be freely available. It might take a little bit of digging, but most journals that support open access will have a section on their site that shows you all the free articles they offer in one place. As some places to start, check out Conservation & Society, the Journal for Nature Conservation, and Ecology and Society.
We all receive way too many emails in a week, often from email listservs that we either never signed up for in the first place or that long ago stopped being useful. There are a number of listservs out there that are great sources of information on current and important issues and events related to conservation. Some of these listserves, like the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, provide a collection of links to current news coverage related to conservation. Others, like CPAWS, provide great ways to get involved in conservation action (discussed more below). There are also scientific journals, such as Nature, that offer email subscriptions to update you on current science. Again, you will have to choose which mailing lists are most useful for your priorities and needs, but this can be a valuable tool.
If poring over scientific journals is not your idea of an exciting Friday night, you might find some of the many outdoor writers more engaging. I’ve posted in the past with an introductory list of outdoor books and some of my more recent favourites. There is any number of conservation writers out there, from the 19th early thinkers and philosophers to books focused more on adventure and travel. In my opinion, everyone should at least read A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. The distinct advantage of books is that someone else has already taken a mountain of information and distilled it down into an accessible and more entertaining delivery. Outdoors books can also be great conversation starters when you want to engage others in discussions around conservation. Remember that staying informed and stimulating your own thinking and conservation ethic is part of the process.
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
At the end of the day, effective and ongoing conservation work costs money. Particularly in the current political climate in the United States and under the former Conservative government in Canada, money for environmental and conservation work has not been forthcoming. Programs in scale from species translocations and reintroductions down to simple trail maintenance require human and financial capital and one of the best ways to get involved in conservation work is to consider putting some dollars towards these efforts in one of the following ways.
Donate to an Organization
Aside from government management agencies, most of the organizations out there who have boots on the ground doing conservation work depend on donations from the public. If you want to contribute to conservation work and don’t have the time to get involved personally, there’s no substitute for simply making a donation to an organization you support. Do some research and find an organization that aligns with your ideologies and priorities. Some organizations have options to sign up for recurring donations each month and in other cases, a simple one-time donation can go a long way. The important thing to remember is that nothing is too little to make a difference. To fall back on an overused cliche, if you purchase two fewer coffees or one fewer beer this week, that’s money you can contribute to conservation efforts. As some examples, I’m a supporter of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative and CPAWS.
Sign Up for a Membership
Related to making a donation, many conservation organizations are membership-driven and offer annual memberships. Becoming a member of an organization makes a big contribution to that organization’s ability to carry out its work and advocate on behalf of hunters and conservationists. Besides, as a member, you often get some great swag to show off and don’t need to worry about remembering to continue to make donations. In Ontario, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters relies on membership fees to engage in a wide variety of conservation efforts that have included playing a key role in the reintroduction of more than 4 000 wild turkeys to Ontario from 1984-1987. I’m also a big supporter of Ducks Unlimited who have been instrumental in waterfowl and wetland conservation throughout North America. In the U.S., the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Wild Sheep Foundation have done some wonderful work on species conservation initiatives.
Purchase a Duck Stamp
I’ve commented in a previous post about the important impacts the Duck Stamp has had on conservation. The Duck Stamp has its origins in the Migratory Birds Convention Act, a joint management framework for migratory birds signed between Canada and the United States in 1914. Each year, Wildlife Habitat Canada issues a Canadian Wildlife Habitat Conservation Stamp to generate funds for waterfowl conservation across Canada (a similar Duck Stamp exists in the United States). The Duck Stamp, which costs $17.00 annually, has generated over $50 million in funding for conservation projects since 1985, including $660 000 towards habitat restoration and enhancement projects. The Duck Stamp is primarily purchased by waterfowl hunters as part of their annual Migratory Game Bird Hunting Permit but is also available for anyone to purchase. If you are interested in contributing some money to a conservation effort that has resulted in, for example, 92 migratory bird sanctuaries across the country, a Duck Stamp is a great place to start. The Duck Stamp has a different design every year, so you will also end up with a nice collection of souvenirs from your contributions.
If you don’t feel like you can contribute financially, you can still become involved directly in conservation actions. Conservation requires the general public to demonstrate that it is a priority. Many of the actions we can take demand very little of our time. It’s often easy to think that one person, one letter, one voice is insignificant in the overall issue, but that’s simply not the case. Every volunteer hour and every letter sent to government makes a difference. The ability to become involved in these ways could quite reasonably be considered an act of patriotism, doing justice to and showing gratitude for the democratic nature of our conservation system in North America and the countless people who have devoted their lives to the success of that system.
Make Phone Calls, Write Letters, Submit Opinions
Many of the decisions that will impact wildlife and habitat have their origins in legislation that is open to public input. Of course, knowing what to say to representatives of government will require some research to understand the background issues (see above), but this can often be achieved with 20 minutes on the internet. Some of the mailing lists I mentioned above will periodically send you suggestions for causes to get involved in and letters you can send to members of government expressing support for conservation measures. Some of these mailings will even have preformatted letters that can be sent directly to your respective member of government. In other cases, you can write your own letter or make a phone call to your Member of Parliament or Member of Provincial Parliament (in Canada, or Senator in the U.S.). These representatives are required to listen to your input and thoughts. In other words, you have the right to an audience with elected government representatives, so exercise the right to urge them to take action on conservation issues. Governments need to know that conservation is a public priority. Public land advocacy is a current issue that needs our attention and action.
In Ontario, we also have something called the Environmental Registry, a website that houses public notices about environmental matters being proposed by a number of provincial government ministries. This is where you can access proposals on laws related to wildlife and conservation. On the Environmental Registry, you are able to submit comments expressing your support for or opposition to legislation that will affect conservation. Submitting comments takes very little time and can go a long way in influencing whether a government ministry follows through on a proposal. Once again, this requires some dedication to become informed on the issues at hand. Do some digging to look for similar tools in your home province or state that allow you to give your input into legislation.
Volunteer for a Conservation Initiative
As I said above, many conservation organizations rely on members and donations and similarly depend on volunteers to do much of their on-the-ground work. Do some research to find conservation organizations near you and consider volunteering for one of their initiatives. In Ontario, the OFAH has volunteers help with fish restoration and it was in large measure a team of volunteers who helped make the wild turkey reintroduction program a success. Volunteer efforts can go a long way in helping conservation organizations achieve work that is critical to their goals. Send some emails and make some phone calls to these organizations and ask them how you can help out. A day of your time can go a long way.
Join the Conversation
Continuing to make progress on conservation issues requires ongoing conversations. In a literal sense, conservation requires discussion, debate, and decision-making that involves a variety of people and organizations. In a more figurative sense, conservation involves a plurality of perspectives and a range of people who bring a diverse set of experiences and priorities. Also like a conversation, protecting wildlife and wild places is a dynamic and ongoing process, one that changes depending on who is involved, and evolves as our understanding of it grows. For these reasons, the conservation conversation requires many people to be involved, contributing in their own ways, and it requires us to find common ground and engage with one another.
One avenue for conservation action that I didn’t discuss yet, but that is somewhat of the critical ingredient for anyone to become involved in maintaining healthy ecosystems, is personal exposure, experiences, and attachment. If you are looking for ways to advocate for wild places, it’s important to get boots on the ground and gain experiences in nature and wilderness. Bring others with you and facilitate them gaining experiences. On that note, take a hunter education course and get involved in the hunting and angling communities. Spending time in nature with the intimacy that comes from hunting and fishing is unparalleled in any other outdoor activity. I think these direct personal experiences are a key prerequisite for commitment to conservation issues, and I would also suggest that they are a key part of our own humanity. Which is to also suggest that losing healthy, intact wild places is to lose part of what allows our species to thrive physically and spiritually.
Or, as Aldo Leopold once said, “Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.” Leopold was suggesting that we all start with a personal appreciation for the visual aspect of nature. Out of that appreciation for beauty follows an attachment to the intangible qualities and values of nature, those that are beyond words and that foster a personal commitment to care and conserve. It is through an understanding of those qualities of nature, uncaptured by language, that we truly join the conversation.