Confluence of Young Conservation Leaders – Hope for the Future
An EcoLeader's Perspective
In early November, National Wildlife Federation’s EcoLeaders program, an initiative dedicated to leadership and career development for young people passionate about futures in Conservation and Sustainability career sectors, sent three EcoLeaders to the Confluence of Young Conservation Leaders in Missouri. This event was chiefly organized by the Conservation Federation of Missouri and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, two National Wildlife Federation Affiliates, in an effort to bring together youth leadership programs from statewide organizations around the country, many of which are National Wildlife Federation Affiliates. Mandy was a National Wildlife Federation EcoLeader in attendance.
From the moment I landed in Kansas City, Missouri, I had a feeling that the weekend would renew my commitment to protecting the environment. Admittedly, I didn’t know what to expect when I was chosen as one of the three National Wildlife Federation EcoLeaders to attend the first ever Confluence of Young Conservation Leaders (CYCL) event, held November 2-5, 2017. I have always been passionate about the environment and sustainability; I seek out any opportunity to learn about how humans can improve or, in some cases, eradicate the undeniably negative impacts we have on this planet. I graduated with a degree in Earth and Environmental Sciences from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2016, but I am not currently working in the environmental or sustainability field. On the way to CYCL, I asked myself: What do I have to offer about conservation issues? How would I fit into the objectives of CYCL? Would I make new friends who care about environmental issues, as I do?
I was met at the airport by Brooke Widmar from the Conservation Federation of Missouri; immediately, it was clear that this was going to be a memorable weekend. I quickly picked up on her passion for environmental and conservation issues. I was interested in the information she gave me about Missouri’s wildlife conservation efforts. I was thrilled that the National Wildlife Federation afforded me this unique opportunity to represent them at the CYCL.
Overall, CYCL was comprised of about 40 attendees, representing conservation groups from Wisconsin, Texas, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, and Louisiana. It was a great mixture of people who are established in the conservation field and young up-and-comers hoping to continue the legacy of established conservation efforts. For two days, we gathered at the amazing and impressive Burr Oak Woods Nature Center in Blue Springs, Missouri to discuss different aspects of conservation issues. We had an open discussion about public land access, diseases affecting wildlife population, diversity in conservation, and how to start youth conservation leadership programs in states that don’t currently have one. We also drafted action items that we can take in order to carry our commitment to conservation beyond CYCL.
Throughout the whole weekend, I was inspired by young people who are so dedicated to making this world a better place and by their commitment to educate themselves on environmental and conservation issues. They refuse to be indifferent to the rapidly escalating climate change and its effects. They actively engage in wildlife and environmental policy making in their states. At the end of CYCL, I felt rejuvenated in my passion to learn about environmental issues. It gave me hope that the future is in good hands as long as there are people continuing to strive for conservation ideals.
Mandy Kaewke is 2016 graduate of The University of Illinois at Chicago and a National Wildlife Federation Young Professional EcoLeader. She is currently looking into pursuing a master’s degree in the environmental field.