The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working on a cool new idea. The idea has a wonky name – the urban wildlife refuge initiative – but it has the potential to connect more kids than ever to nature, especially city kids.
I know how important that is.
As a kid I spent countless hours in Griffith Park climbing hundreds of oak trees and watching the Los Angeles River transform from a concrete flood-control structure to a river that is lined by willows and has great blue herons feeding at its edge. Those places were my backyard, my refuge. But, as a kid, I never got to appreciate or connect with nature on a grand scale.
The urban wildlife refuge initiative will provide places for children to do just that. They will learn about the hundreds of species of birds, mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, insects, plants and pristine wilderness areas protected by refuges.
I work for national wildlife refuges in San Diego, where more than three million people surround this 15,000-acre protected landscape known as the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex. These refuges are part of a network of more than 550 National Wildlife Refuges protecting150 million acres of land and water from the Caribbean to the Pacific and Maine to Alaska. There is at least one national wildlife refuge in every state with most in rural areas, far from where 80 percent of Americans live.
The goal of the urban wildlife refuge initiative is two-fold.
When it comes to being outdoors, Richard Louv says “near” is the new “far.” Urban refuges will bring to cities the nature experiences that rural wildlife refuges deliver. Using “refuge partnerships,” the Service will work with targeted cities to connect urban Americans with nature in their neighborhoods … to help children of the next generation to love the land even though pavement is what they usually see … to get kids outside and to encourage them to learn about and appreciate the birds flying across their cityscapes.
The initiative also is designed to make existing urban wildlife refuges better. There are urban refuges in or near Philadelphia, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and elsewhere as well as San Diego.
The urban wildlife refuge initiative will help refuges build partnerships with schools; offer more volunteer, employment, and internship opportunities for young people; and devise environmental education programs that engage and inspire the urban public, especially children.
The urban wildlife refuge initiative is part of an evolving US Fish and Wild Service vision called Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation. To learn more about that vision and the initiative, go to AmericasWildlife.org.
In the meantime, I recommend introducing children in your life to a national wildlife refuge. Start by going to the National Wildlife Refuge System website and locating a refuge near you.
Since the time that I spent in the trees and creeks in Los Angeles, I have been able to develop a connection to the grander scale of nature. While in college at Oregon State University, I had the opportunity to research bison herds in Yellowstone and learn about condor breeding at the Grand Canyon. While these experiences were amazing and helped guide my decision to work in the natural resource field, the experiences that I had as a child are what really fostered my appreciation for nature.
As the Environmental Education Specialist on San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex, I have the amazing gift to be that person who provides an opportunity to foster a child’s appreciation of nature. The look in a child’s eye when they lift a rock on the edge of San Diego Bay, find a shore crab, catch it and hold it in their hands is so rewarding to me as an educator – and to that child it is a nature experience and connection that they will never forget. Providing those experiences are why I do what I do, and why the National Wildlife Refuge System is creating ways to connect with urban audiences!
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