Nurture Nature and the Next Generation of Conservationists

NWF   |   May 30, 2018

Let’s face it. Baby seals are irresistible. These freckled, whiskered, precious little pups turn up on beaches, shorelines, boat ramps and other unexpected places. How did they get there? Usually, it’s their mothers who place them to rest while she hunts for food. Cute and cuddly it’s almost impossible not to get closer, pet them and get a photo.

But should you? The answer, loud and clear, is no.

“No selfies with seals!” is the battle cry among marine biologists and a public awareness initiative by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Why? Because if you get too close, a seal pup’s mother might abandon it.

For kids, brimming with excitement around wildlife, this can be hard to remember, not to mention a letdown. A child’s thrill to discover cute baby animals in their midst is often matched by an overwhelming enthusiasm to touch, to pet, or to feed them—all of which cause more harm than good. So how can our young nature enthusiasts engage with wildlife in a positive way and help them thrive? The National Wildlife Federation’s second annual Wildlife in the City Week, culminating in a Wildlife Festival at Discovery Park was a great place to start.

Ranger Rick greeting kids at the Wildlife in the City Festival at Discovery Park in Seattle. Credit: Jacqueline Koch

Bringing together more than 25 local organizations, the Wildlife Festival gathered Puget Sound residents of all ages with Ranger Rick to “Discover Our Wild Neighbors.” And there was plenty to do and learn: building birdhouses, exploring wildlife restoration, discovering native plants and learning how to be an “otter spotter” to help advance marine biology research.

Courtney Sullivan, NWF education manager, drawing Wildlife-themed face painted with Wildlife Festival participants. Credit: Bozanich Photography

Wildlife in the City Week puts an emphasis on the next generation of conservationists: kids. It’s a connection point, linking them to the many ways they can be empowered and engage to have a positive impact on the urban habitat that surrounds them. The Duwamish River is an excellent example. Better known as a Superfund site after decades of hazardous waste dumping, many Seattle residents are surprised to discover the wildlife that abounds in its waters and on its shores.

“Come down to the river and you’ll see all this wildlife, such as osprey, beavers and river otters,” said Sharon Leishman, of Duwamish Alive. In a dense urban environment, the Duwamish is in need of care and ongoing wildlife habitat restoration. Leishman sees this is a great opportunity for kids. “To get kids engaged is to go out as a parent and do wildlife restoration work with them,” she said. “And make it fun!”

Sharon Leishman of Duwamish Alive sharing tips on how to restore habitat with native plants to Wildlife Festival participants. Credit: Bozanich Photography

We must also make a connection between the rivers, streams and creeks that feed into Puget Sound with our own backyards.

“Think about how we can nurture nature through gardening, says Courtney Sullivan, Senior Regional Education Manager with National Wildlife Federation’s Seattle Office. To garden for wildlife requires that we do so sustainably, without introducing toxins into the water streams. For kids, Sullivan also suggests gardening our wildlife friends that are often overlooked.

Seattle Urban Nature Guide Elaine Chuang helping kids make bird houses at the Wildlife Festival at Discovery Park. Credit: Jacqueline Koch

“The best wildlife stewardship kids can engage in is with pollinators, they aren’t as obvious, but so important to us all,” Sullivan said. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds all need different water sources. A puddle dish, decorated with rocks and marbles can be tucked under trees and bushes, down low and out of sight. “It’s great because kids can go back to it and see the pollinators that visit it.”

It’s a guaranteed viewing site, Sullivan added, and it brings kids closer to the many unexpected ways that wildlife coexists in the city. If you haven’t already, you, too, can create a wildlife friendly yard and get closer to wildlife through National Wildlife Federations’ Garden for Wildlife Program.

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This story was written by guest writer, Jacqueline Koch. 

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Learning how to co-exist with marine mammals at Discovery Park in Seattle with advice from Sno-King Marine Mammal Rescue. Credit: Bozanich Photography