Erin Yoder Logue was one of our two summer Law and Policy Interns in our Seattle office. During her time with us, Erin researched state wildlife corridor legislation, attended policy conferences, and helped us move forward in our efforts to reconnect, restore, and rewild North America on the ground. You’ll hear from Dakota Rash, our second Law and Policy Intern, later this summer.
My summer as a Law and Policy Intern at Wildlands Network challenged me to apply everything I learned in my first year of law school. From writing model wildlife corridor legislation to working with state lawmakers on environmental regulations, I was busy from start to finish.
Being Part of a Movement
I spent the first part of my summer swimming through the deep sea of administrative laws that regulate wildlife management and critical habitats. I analyzed bills lawmakers had passed to support biodiversity in Washington, Oregon, California, and New Hampshire. In some states, I was encouraged by the progress lawmakers had made. In others, however, new legislation to protect our nation’s biodiversity is sorely lacking.
To write meaningful wildlife corridor legislation, I had to put myself in the shoes of the citizens from each state. One thing I repeatedly heard from outside groups this summer is that the next wave of environmentalists should do a better job of practicing humility and empathy. After all, who am I to write laws that directly affect people living in parts of the country I have never been to?
With that advice, I picked up the phone and started interviewing people in every state I was researching. I wanted to know what made projects like the Interstate 90 overpass in Washington a success. I wanted to see how state agencies in New Hampshire felt about the mandated corridor study bill that passed in 2016. I needed to understand what motivated citizens to support wildlife connectivity, and what might’ve made them hesitate. Finding common ground for legislation that protects critical wildlife corridors was imperative.
Everyone wants clean air, clean water, and healthy wildlife—without sacrificing a prosperous economy.
During my interviews, I found a conservation common ground that every state seems to seek. Everyone wants clean air, clean water, and healthy wildlife—without sacrificing a prosperous economy. Thus, it was imperative for our legislation to highlight the positive effect wildlife corridors have on the economy. For each state, we collected data for our findings that showed:
- the amount of revenue and jobs brought by the outdoor recreation industry;
- the value of ecosystem services within the state;
- how much money was being wasted by wildlife-vehicle collisions; and
- which of the state’s strongest industries will be negatively affected by climate change like agriculture, tourism, and fisheries.
We explained that by creating wildlife corridors, a state could strengthen its strongest industries and mitigate the negative effects of climate change on its economy and natural resources. Following the findings, our proposed state legislation calls for the establishment of an administrable program that focuses on the designation and protection of wildlife corridors.
Unfortunately, one summer does not allow for enough time to see a wildlife corridor bill from start to finish, but I do look forward to watching these bills progress in the upcoming years.
One of the highlights of my summer was attending the National Issues Forum for the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL). As part of my internship, I created the content and media for Wildlands Network Executive Director Greg Costello’s presentation, during which he spoke about the importance of habitat connectivity to a captivated room full of legislators.
Wildlands Network’s celebrity ambassador, Jon Huertas from NBC’s This Is Us, moderated Greg’s panel and inspired listeners by telling his story. As a child, he got into trouble in New York City; he was headed down the wrong path until he spent time with family in the Virginian wilderness. Jon said that being among wildlife in its habitat saved him.
After Jon spoke, legislators approached us eager to pass wildlife corridor legislation in their states. They were excited about what we had been working hard on all summer, and it was a truly motivating moment.
The NCEL forum was thought provoking in other ways as well. The presentations were helpful, but something was concerning about these sessions—the listeners. Where were the millennials? Where was Native American representation? Where was the diversity?
Inclusivity seems to be a common thread in most mainstream movements today, yet it is completely missing from the environmental movement—so much so, that many legislators at the forum said they do not involve major conservation nonprofits in their legislative drafting sessions since “those groups are not representative of my constituents.”
The Pacific Wildway is creating an inclusive, sustainable conservation movement that addresses the environmental needs of diverse groups.
So how do we attract a more diverse constituent base to represent all environmental interests? We earn their trust. Key organizations must partner with urban residents to ensure their most basic environmental needs are met, like clean air and water. We must also include millennials in reform efforts. Their energy and tenacity are critical, yet many of them are wary of agency and partisan corruption. We need to show them that they can get involved and make a difference.
That’s why one focus of our newly launched Pacific Wildway is creating an inclusive, sustainable conservation movement that addresses the environmental needs of diverse groups. It’s imperative we include the people who live and work in the environment we’re attempting to protect. They’re the ones who know it best, and their voices should be heard.
With all of this in mind, the question I aim to explore moving forward in my career is, “How do we engage with new audiences and re-engage with the audience we lost?” It’s an exciting time to be a conservationist, and I am incredibly grateful to have been a part of this movement.