A Family for the Future of Wildlife

“For the nature of tomorrow, we must be the change that the world desperately needs today”

 Also posted on National Wildlife magazine:

I HAVE LONG THOUGHT of the National Wildlife Federation as part of my family. After all, the organization had only existed for 14 years when I was born into an outdoors-oriented family that was one of its earliest champions. Mom and Dad belonged to the Breakneck Beagle Club, one of the Federation’s many local affiliates at the time. Dad was the club’s membership secretary and I remember sitting at our dining room table stuffing envelopes for mailings, which always included NWF stamp art sheets to encourage donations to the National Wildlife Federation.

Three mentors from my youth became prominent NWF board members and one of them, Lenny Green, became chair of the board. I owe a lot to Lenny and the others for helping to steer me into a career in conservation. Much has changed since those early days, but NWF is still one big family devoted to a common purpose: to inspire Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future.

That family has included a long list of dedicated people who have played key roles in our organization’s 75-year history. Many prominent people served as volunteers on our board and as Wildlife Week chairs, including “Ding” Darling, Aldo Leopold, Shirley Temple-Black, Bing Crosby, Walt Disney, Stewart Udall, Hopalong Cassidy, John Denver and this year’s recipient of the J.N. “Ding” Darling Conservationist of the Year medal, Robert Redford. You may not know the names of other volunteer and staff leaders who are no longer with us, such as Jay Hair, Tom Kimball, Trudy Farrand, John and Bob Strohm, John M. Phillips, Havilah Babcock, Ross Leffler, Fred Scroggins, Cliff Young, Ralph Abele, Maurice K. Goddard, Charlie Shaw, Doug Miller and Craig Tufts, but each were important strands woven into NWF’s varied and colorful quilt.

For 75 years, our annual meetings have been special events where the NWF family gathers to celebrate our efforts to protect wildlife. During those events, we have had our share of laughter. Who can forget Kermit the Frog, who supported our work for many years and served as chair of Wildlife week, officially announcing his run for president of the United States during the 1984 annual meeting in Atlanta? As the audience shouted “Run, Kermit, run,” the tuxedoed Muppet promised to be the nation’s first truly green president.

We’ve also had our share of inspiring and touching moments. In one of his last public appearances, weakened by disease, Arthur Godfrey told us that while hospitalized he memorized sections of Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and wanted to share them. Hearing Leopold’s beautifully written words in Godfrey’s deep melodious voice at the annual meeting was, for me, a deeply moving experience.

At another annual meeting in 1985, we honored Congressman Morris Udall for a lifetime of conservation accomplishments. Though hobbled by advancing Parkinson’s disease, Mo talked about his deep passion for nature, punctuating his remarks with his unquenchable humor. In his parting words, he urged us to fight on. Knowing that we may never see him again, we cheered and cried as this courageous leader made his slow course off the NWF stage. Since then, we have not forgotten Mo’s charge to fight on. Neither has the Udall family. Both Senator Mark Udall of Colorado and Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico are clarion voices for conservation.

Looking forward, we will continue to stand with the Udalls and with the other families all across America that cannot bear the thought of losing wildlife or wild places. NWF is needed more than ever today to protect important public lands for wildlife, to restore damaged habitats and waters, and to confront climate change.

We are facing uncertain times with the planet becoming overdosed with heat-trapping carbon pollution. Scientists have repeatedly warned us that we must act now. We must do everything possible to help fish and wildlife adapt to a warming world. Above all, we must find solutions to this grave threat to our children’s future. For the nature of tomorrow, we must be the change that the world desperately needs today.

This year’s 75th annual NWF meeting promises to be a special gathering of some of America’s greatest conservationists who are working together to tackle these urgent challenges. It is my privilege to serve with so many dedicated volunteers, donors and staff leaders who continue to shape our organization as a stalwart voice for wildlife in the 21st century. You can be a part of the celebration at this upcoming historic meeting in Washington D.C., on April 13.