Celebrate Women in Conservation this Women’s History Month

Bighorn sheep are one of the many species that benefit from strong climate action taken by women (photo: USFWS)
NWF is celebrating Women’s History Month this March by recognizing women who have made a difference in protecting our wildlife and natural resources!

Women are making an impact. But their contributions to wildlife conservation often go unrecognized.  Women are leaders in the conservation field and climate action movement through their powerful roles as business owners, scientists, educators, NGO leaders, writers, and activists.

Unfortunately, women are poorly represented in national and international decision-making about climate change (less than 25% of the head delegates in recent international climate negotiations were women!), despite the fact that women in the U.S. and around the world will be disproportionately impacted by climate change. Indigenous women, women from low-income communities, and many women in developing countries bear a heavier burden from the impacts of climate change because they are more likely to rely on natural resources, live in areas with poor infrastructure, or be responsible for food production and water collection.

Big game species like moose are impacted by warming temperatures (photo: Nelma Oman)
The actions of women can help big game species like moose, which are impacted by warming temperatures (photo: Nelma Oman)
Women are also increasing their status as an important part of the sporting world; today women are the fastest-growing hunting and angling demographic in the country. However, studies have also demonstrated that girls have less access to outdoor play compared to boys of the same age, which can have impacts on both physical and mental health. To get more kids and girls in the outdoors check out NWF’s Great American Campout program.

Recognizing women’s achievements and celebrating their leadership is not only deserved, but necessary to reach the goal of protecting our communities, landscapes, and wildlife from the impacts of climate change. It is thanks to many women that we have the Clean Power Plan, EPA’s rule to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants; a strong clean energy industry; and a conservation movement that protects wildlife for generations to come.

Let’s celebrate! Below are some of the conservation women leaders that we have decided to highlight. To share a woman in conservation that you admire use #ConservationWomen.

Historical Women in Conservation

Rachel Carson (1907 – 1964)

Many of these women worked to protect bird species, of which today ### are threatened by climate change (photo: Kerrie Best)
Many of these women worked to protect birds, like hawks. Today climate change threatens nearly half of all North American bird species. (photo: Kerrie Best)
Carson, a western Pennsylvania native, is most famously known for her ground breaking 1962 book Silent Spring, which brought the environmental movement to the mainstream. Silent Spring documented the detrimental effects of pesticides on the environment, particularly birds, and helped lead to the eventual ban of DDT. “But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.”

Rosalie Edge (1877 – 1962)

Edge was a woman’s suffragist and species preservation advocate, who during the great depression was considered the U.S.’s “most militant conservationist”. She pushed the conservation community to take stronger measures and protect a wider range of bird species. In 1934 she founded the world’s first preserve for birds of prey, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania. She was also successful in leading grassroots campaigns and lobbying congress to create national parks and purchase old-growth forest.

Wangari Maathai (1940 – 2011)

Alligators, like those that live in the Everglades, face reproductive threats from climate change. (photo: Sandee Harraden)
Douglas worked to protect alligators in the Everglades, which now also face reproductive threats from climate change. (photo: Sandee Harraden)
Founder of the Green Belt Movement, Maathai was an environmental and political activist born in Nairobi, Kenya. Her organization focused on planting trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights. In 2004 she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her “contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace”.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890 – 1998)

Douglas was a journalist for the Miami Herald and activist defender of the Florida Everglades from the dangers of development and pollution. In 1947 she wrote the book The Everglades: River of Grass, which helped redefine the Everglades as a treasured river rather than a worthless swamp. This work helped galvanize people to protect the Everglades.

Margaret “Mardy” Murie (1902 – 2003)

The habitat of bears, like those living in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge, are threatened by climate change (photo: Edward Pivorun)
The habitat of bears, which women like Murie helped to protect, is now threatened by climate change. (photo: Edward Pivorun)
Considered the “grandmother of conservation”, Murie was a wildlife activist and ecologist who grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska. Her activism helped pass the 1964 Wilderness Act and create the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In 2003, Murie was awarded NWF’s Conservationist of the Year.

Mollie Beattie (1947 – 1996)

Beattie was the first woman appointed to be director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While there, she was integral in landmark environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. Some of her most notable accomplishments include overseeing the reintroduction of the grey wolf to Yellowstone and the creation of fifteen new wildlife refuges. In the long term, the economy and the environment are the same thing. If it’s unenvironmental it is uneconomical. That is the rule of nature.”

Donella Meadows (1941 – 2001)

Meadows was an environmental scientist most famous for authoring Limits to Growth, a discussion of the consequence of interactions between the Earth and human systems. In addition to this publication she was also a professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and founder of the Sustainability Institute, a place for research on global systems and practical demonstrations of sustainable living.

Gina McCarthy: Today’s Clean Power Plan Champion

Mercury poisoning is a huge threat to bald eagles. (photo credit: USFWS)
McCarthy is working to save bald eagles from two of their largest threats: mercury poisoning and climate change. (photo: USFWS)
Gina McCarthy, the current Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is a demonstrated conservationist, staunch supporter of clean air and water, and headed creation of the Clean Power Plan (along with another female climate defender, Janet McCabe).

McCarthy has taken the President’s call to act on climate and made it one of her top priorities for the EPA, most notably through the release of the Clean Power Plan rule. In her speech announcing the CPP, she said this:

“It’s no accident that our proposal is a key piece of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan—and key to American leadership in our global climate fight. Although there’s still much work to do to get carbon pollution down to safe levels, I’m hopeful when I see the progress we’ve made. I’m hopeful because I see the pattern of perseverance that defines America.”

Even before the Clean Power Plan and her role as administrator, McCarthy had many conservation successes. McCarthy oversaw the development of the first mercury and air toxics standards which delivered huge protections to wildlife like the bald eagle, as well as public health benefits for many Americans. McCarthy also helped design and implement strong national fuel economy standards and launched a successful No Child Left Inside program in Connecticut.

Take Action The Clean Power Plan is sure to face attacks in Congress. Stand with these #ConservationWomen and tell your Senator that you support action on climate change!