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Teaching our children to conserve wild spaces

The Hamilton Spectator
January 23, 2017

Empowering children on environmental issues entails more than just teaching them the basics of environmental conservation; it’s also about providing them with the opportunities to take action and to make a difference.

As Canada’s largest conservation organization by membership, Earth Rangers have been doing just that for over a decade. And when you empower children to take action on the environment, they can astonish you with their commitment, generosity and effectiveness.

For example, our Bring Back the Wild program provides children with tools, tips and resources to raise funds for species protection, conservation research, land acquisition and habitat stewardship.

While you wouldn’t think a child’s bake sale, lemonade stand or arts-and-crafts fair would make much difference, you’d be surprised at the results. Since Bring Back the Wild started, our members have raised over $2.5 million for conservation programs in Canada.

In fact, when children are provided with the right tools and have clear goals, they can accomplish extraordinary things.

Take 11-year-old Earth Ranger Devin, for example. Devin heard about the Earth Rangers through his school and was inspired to protect Ontario’s eastern wolves, which are threatened by the loss of habitat. Devin used his birthday party as an opportunity to ask guests to make a donation in support of eastern wolf conservation in lieu of gifts for himself. He raised $325 from friends and family.

Or consider young Amelia, who wanted to help little brown bats, which are under threat from white nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has killed millions of bats across North America. She raised over $200 by selling homemade Valentine’s Day cards and by hosting a birthday party fundraiser.

In every Canadian province and territory, young Earth Rangers are taking small but important actions like these — and together, they’re making a large contribution to conserving Canada’s species and environment.

We’re assisted in our education programs through partnerships with many leading conservation organizations like Wildlife Conservation Society Canada, Parks Canada, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI).

Currently, SFI is supporting research by NCC into vernal pools — seasonal ponds filled with water or melted snow. These shallow pools are important habitats, especially for amphibians. Understanding how many different species use these pools, and identifying sites where such pools are likely to form, is critical to enhancing biodiversity conservation.

A team of biologists and volunteers is surveying the forests of Kenauk, Quebec. They’ll take water samples from numerous vernal pools. A DNA analysis will be done on these samples, helping to identify the animal or animals that use these pools.

And kids are learning about this through Earth Rangers’ cross-Canada school tour, an interactive and engaging program supported in part by SFI. Through the power of live animal demonstrations and exciting audience interaction, students learn about the importance of protecting and conserving biodiversity, while highlighting important conservation initiatives across Canada.

We’ve been pleased with our partnerships because they introduce children to cutting edge research like this. These partnerships both educate and inspire our future scientists and explorers.

Every year, we conduct television appearances and education sessions, including hands-on activities and live presentations, at over 800 schools across the country to share our passion for conserving Canada’s beautiful environment.

We keep children engaged with live animals displaying natural behaviours, such as birds flying overhead in the school gymnasium. And we teach them about what is happening to animal habitats, like vernal pools, around the world and how we can all work together to better conserve these areas.

The model is working. We’ve grown quickly to include more than 150,000 members across Canada who are motivated and committed to taking real action for the environment.

Our aim is not just to foster budding conservationists, but also to enhance the attributes of good, responsible citizenship and environmental stewardship. When children learn why it’s important to care for our environment, when they understand about the vital need to conserve biodiversity, the future of our country is strengthened and we’re all much better for it.

Peter Kendall is the executive director of Earth Rangers. www.earthrangers.org

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