Standing in the United States Capitol building, surrounded by bustling crowds of people taking in the beauty and history of the nation’s capital, I had to take a deep breath as I reminded myself that I wasn’t here as a tourist – I was here as an advocate for wildlife.
I was playing a part in a movement for the world of wildlife conservation, and making a difference in protecting the natural resources that play such a large role in the heritage and culture of this wonderful country. What an opportunity!
I’m a law and policy intern for the Wildlands Network. Throughout the summer,I’ve had some unforgettable experiences helping with science and policy initiatives that the Wildlands Network is spearheading – including developing state wildlife corridor legislation, collecting camera traps for red wolf research in the Carolinas, and supporting federal-level policy efforts.
One of the most impactful opportunities I have had so far was my trip to Washington, D.C., where I assisted in running a congressional briefing for the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act – the federal bill that would establish a national network of wildlife corridors to reconnect wildlife habitat across North America. During this trip I saw how professional conservationists translate passion for conserving wildlife and our natural lands into real world action, and was amazed and inspired to be a part of it.
The congressional briefing was held on a Tuesday afternoon, so the days leading up to the briefing were full of meetings, phone calls, and navigating the streets of D.C.. While making sure everything was in place for the event to be a success – from printing posters to coordinating technology – I was able to see just how much work goes into events like these. Helping with this preparation just made me even more excited for the event, which would turn out to be a huge success.
That Tuesday morning, I attended meetings with Wildlands Network staff, members of other conservation groups, and the guest of honor Sir Robert Watson, renowned environmental scientist and advocate and chair of the IPBES Global Assessment Report of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
We met with various Congressional staff members to bolster support for the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act and spread the word about the briefing happening later that day. Sitting in these meetings, I saw that not only were the staffers receptive to the concept of wildlife corridors and the need for them in the face of a global loss of biodiversity, but they seemed fascinated by the concept and eager to learn more. This encouraged me and showed me that our efforts were not in vain, and the possibility of this bill being successful was tangible and real.
After these meetings, it was crunch time.
I spent the rest of the day helping make sure all the details were in place for the event to run smoothly. I was excited and confident that soon the room would be filled to the brim with people curious about conservation.
By the beginning of the briefing, every chair was taken and there were at least 20 people standing in the back of the room. As the event began and Dr. E.O. Wilson’s beautiful introduction started playing, I was hopeful seeing so many people learning about wildlife corridors and conservation across the country.
The briefing began with three presentations by our guest speakers.
Sir Robert Watson began by presenting the findings of the IPBES Report and how the results of that study show that the main threats to biodiversity are human-caused, and immediate action to reduce this decline in biodiversity is mandatory.
Next was Aran Johnson, a wildlife biologist with the Southern Ute Indian tribe in Colorado. Aran explained the need for habitat connectivity for the health of wildlife populations, specifically in the West, and also voiced the Tribal support of the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act.
The third speaker was Dr. Ron Sutherland, Wildlands Network’s chief scientist. Dr. Sutherland spoke on the need for connectivity in the Eastern United States, illustrating his points through examples of effective corridors across the country.
Finally, a discussion panel between Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico (D), Representative Don Beyer of Virginia (D), and Representative Vern Buchanan of Florida (R) – the three leading sponsors of the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act. Each of them spoke on their personal commitment to wildlife conservation and why it is important for members of both parties.
Throughout the briefing, I watched audience members from across the political and professional spectrum learn about the importance of this legislation, and how crucial it is to fight the rapid decline of biodiversity across the world.
Before leaving, I did have the opportunity to meet Representative Beyer to thank him for his support on this important effort. Shaking his hand, I could see the excitement in his eyes for this groundbreaking effort towards rewilding and reconnecting North America.
This experience taught me that when people come together to proactively solve problems – even for an issue like wildlife conservation that can often be so controversial – a sense of community is formed and progress is made towards accomplishing something that seems impossible. The support I saw for the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act was amazing, and I know that that support and enthusiasm will continue to grow quickly.
To see the presentations yourself, view the full briefing here!