Finding Your Voice Through Conservation

This week’s blog was written by Emma C., a Bucktails alumni. Emma is an avid student, ballet dancer, and nature lover. When not at dance or school, she enjoys hiking, photography, painting, watching musicals and movies, learning interesting histories, and especially reading.

From the moment I opened my first resource box from the Wildlife Leadership Academy, I was hooked. I immediately started investigating the informative articles, making preparatory notes from the wildlife resource packet, and setting up my virtual workspace for the week ahead. Nature has always been a safe place for me, and I was so excited to start working on its protection with like-minded young people guided by experienced and inspiring wildlife experts. That opportunity is just what WLA gives to young people; at its heart, WLA provides a platform from which informed youth can engage with their local communities and spread timely and relevant guidance on the most valuable ways to interact with and protect our environment.

Through an intensive five-day program, students are immersed in a world of discovery and excitement, followed by a year of continuing educational opportunities and outreach. With its five species-specific programs, Bass, Brookies, Bucktails, Gobblers, and Ursids, WLA seeks to encourage leadership and development of life skills that translate into any wildlife-centered activity. I graduated from the “Bucktails” camp specifically, which focuses on white-tailed deer: their anatomy, behavior, annual cycles, diseases, effect on ecosystems, and management issues. With intriguing and informative lectures from experts, fun team events such as “deer trivia”, and hands-on activities including nature photography and plant pressings, students are soon swept up in the camp and its many wonders.

In addition to its educational value, WLA also offers significant advancements in emotional growth. As it is the Wildlife Leadership Academy, developing leadership skills is a large part of the program. Students are tasked with developing public speaking skills through presentations, and every student is given the opportunity to help lead their group at one point or another. This focus on peer assistance leads to the next part of emotional growth, working in a team. Teamwork is a key “push” throughout the week, as students work together competing against other teams for a grand prize at the end of the program. I personally was amazed at the friendships I made with my teammates that week, unhampered by Zoom.

Just as the program wraps up for that educational week of camp, its graduates soon learn that the real work as a Conservation Ambassador truly begins. Perhaps the strongest point of the way WLA helps students complete their outreach goals is that activities can all be tailored to the individual youth ambassador — your interests, your talents, and your skills. Students can achieve outreach points in numerous and varied ways, and many students are already completing outreach activities before they even start camp.

For me, I completed my outreach in two main ways: art and education. In terms of art, I have really developed a love and prolificness for nature photography. This skill and art is one that students work on during the camp and further discuss during lectures that culminate in a photo competition at the end of the week. I have taken numerous portfolios of nature photography ranging from my own backyard to the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard. In various presentations, I then display my photography. Plant pressing is another skill developed during camp and one I have quite taken to. Used for both art and scientific purposes, it is super fun and engaging. Finally, I have taken up water coloring. Usually, I will take a favorite of one of my nature photos, and then turn it into a painting.

In terms of education, I have created my own educational materials in the form of various brochures on intriguing nature topics. These include an exploration of the differences between butterflies and moths, an explanation of the ghost pipe plant, and an overview of shelf fungus. I also served as a monthly blog correspondent for WLA’s NextGen Blog, writing about varied nature topics over the course of the last year. My favorites of these include one about double-crested cormorants and another about the horseshoe crab.

Using these educational materials, my artwork, and other resources I have given presentations to local cub scout groups in my town. It is wonderful to engage with these kids who will one day be the next group of WLA members. Most recently, I opened a stall at a community farmer’s market in my town, where I shared my materials with local residents by discussing white-tailed deer, native plants, and WLA’s program.

In addition, I promoted WLA’s fundraising campaign Pay it Forward, which I also helped to raise money for last year through a donation webpage. In the future, I am hoping to expand my outreach further, by perhaps helping to preserve local farmlands or petition for deer crossing signs along local roads.

Now in my second year with WLA, I have realized that this program has been most impactful on me not necessarily for the information I learned, but more so for the community and mission it has given me. Of course learning that a deer has a four-chambered stomach (in order of digestion the rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum) and that plants can have three different types of leaf arrangement (opposite, alternate, or whorled in case you were curious) is important, but almost more important for me was meeting like-minded people who also realize those things are important. WLA has shown me that anyone can make a difference in the world; shown me that I can make a difference in the world. It has helped me find my voice, and use it for something meaningful. The great conservationist Rachel Carson once said, “One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”. WLA has helped me see the world this way every day, and with any luck, I can help others see it this way, too.

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.