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What I’ve Learned After Talking with 50+ Conservationists
Today I have a special episode for you. At the end of January, Rewildology celebrated its first birthday and in that time over 50 conservationists from multiple countries, fields, and backgrounds appeared on the show. While every person had their own unique story and life experiences, I started to notice a few themes across interviews. I’ve compiled a list of them here and wanted to share with all of you a set of tips about how to move forward in your conservation journey. Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list and I’m sure I’ll put together another one of these episodes in the future, but these eight items will hopefully give you some things to ponder on.
Okay, now on to the 8 Things I’ve learned so far from the 50+ guests on the show.
1. There’s not one way to do conservation or be a conservationist
I found it fascinating that almost every guest brought up this point in one form or another, and I couldn’t agree more with each of them. I’ll explain further from my own experiences.
Throughout my career, I’ve met several people with a strict view of what conservation is, what it isn’t, who is a conservationist, and who isn’t. Not only is this view hurting progress, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Rewildology’s guests that are creating the most impact all agree and said in their own way that not one answer to conservation exists (let’s be real – if it did then none of us would be doing what we’re doing), and anyone can be a conservationist.
If you’re skeptical, listen to how Oxford defines ‘conservationist: “a person who advocates or acts for the protection and preservation of the environment and wildlife.”
If someone is making deliberate decisions to better the planet and reduce their impact, then by definition, they are a conservationist.
There’s more than enough room at the table. In fact, most seats are empty. We need people from all backgrounds collaborating and brainstorming solutions. As we’ve heard from guests all around the world, every natural area is unique with its own conservation challenges and thus requires its own set of solutions. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done and we need more people with unique skills and life experiences to help us see problems in a new light and reach better solutions.
2. Keeping an open mind is crucial to succeeding in this field
Piggy-backing on the last point, we need to keep an open mind and not close ourselves off to new ideas if we are to succeed in our greater mission. I really loved the way Jenny Wong put it in Episode 63, “Nobody’s perfect, nobody’s culture is perfect, and we must keep an open mind.” It’s so easy to become stuck in our ways and rely on our training to tackle new problems. But in doing so, we’re potentially overlooking a more fitting solution. Collaborating with others that are strong in your weak spots is a fantastic way to reach new heights in your work.
3. The Ways of Old are out
This is another large theme that spans across several interviews. The old ways of doing conservation are going out the door. It’s no longer acceptable for a foreign academic to come into an area, determine a recovery plan without input from the local community, and then leave.
Multiple researchers and organizational representatives have shared that the only way they start a project or determine a course of action is by first engaging with and gaining support from local communities.
Community-based conservation (or CBC) and honest collaboration are becoming the standard versus the exception.
If you’re a researcher or want to do research with any culture that isn’t your own, then I highly recommend checking out episode 42 with Kayla Cranston, PhD. She’s a conservation psychology professor and shares several tips on how to use psychology to first, not offend a community, and second, to truly understand the issues at hand and come to a solution with locals. As Kayla said in that episode, people are the problem, and people are the solution.
4. Putting pressure on legislators and governments is the best (and sometimes) only way to create change
Ah, yes, the political tip that all of us wish we could avoid. Isn’t it amazing how we all enter this field thinking we’re just going to work with wildlife? Oh, how naive I was. If you’ve been in the field for any length of time, then I’m sure you know exactly what I mean.
As we’ve seen time and time again, putting pressure on government and regulators is sometimes the only way to create change.
Speak up and advocate. Write to your senators. Set up appointments with Congressmen. Sign petitions. If we want systemic change, then we have to share our knowledge with the people who make political decisions.
The recent wolf slaughters in the US are a perfect example of the power of legislation for or against conservation. In late 2020, gray wolves were removed from the Endangered Species Act, a federal law. When federal protection was removed, wolf management returned to the power of the states. Havoc ensued the next hunting season. A couple of wolf states even openly shared that they planned to reduce their wolf population by 90% (I literally almost puked when I read those headlines).
They were well on their way to these grotesque numbers, but thankfully, wolves recently gained protection in almost every state, except a few that are causing the most damage. This is a perfect example of the power of public outcry, and that our work is never truly over. Unless wolves regain federal protection in every US state, then they will remain in danger from insane hunting quotas. I’ll add links to this issue in the show notes and I’ve considered doing a whole episode on this topic. If you’re interested in me covering this issue in a future episode, please DM me on Instagram at Rewildology with your thoughts.
Some other examples mentioned by guests are mandatory turtle-safe shrimping practices in the US as explained by Brad in Episode 59. The US also only purchases shrimp that are caught using these same methods. In Episode 60, Frank Garita discussed the newly-established ocean corridor spanning from Costa Rica to the Galapagos Islands, creating an underwater highway for marine life. Episode 7 with Hailey Hawkins is literally all about political lobbying for wildlife and I highly recommend checking out that show to hear more about leveraging politics for conservation.
5. Changing one habit at a time is the best way to live a more eco-friendly life and sticking with it
Let’s face it – changing habits is hard and the modern conveniences of today make it even more difficult to switch to usually less-convenient, sustainable options. Sasha Francis in Episode 54 and Christine Figgener in Episode 61 both laid out fantastic tips for slowly but surely leading more eco-friendly lives. Changing everything at once will surely lead to failure, and make us all feel guilty for not sticking to a green lifestyle. Do yourself a favor a replace plastic items with a sustainable alternative as you run out of them. The same goes for habits. Maybe you really want to start composting, unplugging all of your electronics when not in use, growing your own food, and buying as many things as possible in bulk. That’s a lot! Start with one of your eco-conscious goals, perfect it, then move on to the next. Imagine the progress you’ll make at the end of the year if you adopt just one sustainable habit each month.
6. No one is perfect – even the most dedicated conservationists
This one definitely makes me feel better about my past failures and hopefully, it does for you, too. Every guest has been kind enough to openly share about how they failed at something along their path, and most of the time it was something pretty major. No one’s journey is perfect, including yours, and that’s okay. Embrace your mess and turn it into a message for someone else.
7. Carefully consider the next stage in your career
- Carefully consider the next stage in your career
This tip is incredibly valuable. Charles van Rees, PhD in Episode 37, and Stotra Chakrabarti, PhD in Episode 48 are both in academia both spent a lot of time sharing their wisdom on graduate school. If you missed these episodes, I’ll give you a quick recap: PhDs aren’t for everyone, and obtaining the maximum degree level won’t necessarily get you the career you’re looking for. So, before applying to a PhD program or deciding on your next move, ask yourself these important questions:
What do I actually need to reach the next stage of my career?
What valuable skills am I lacking?
Where do I see myself in 10 years?
Really evaluate yourself. Maybe even sit down with a notebook or blank Google doc and chart out your current assets, the skills you need to land the opportunity you’re looking for, and your greater dreams and goals, then reverse engineer all of them. If you want to be a Director of Conservation for a well-known organization, the Executive Director of a nonprofit, a professor, or maybe even a Sustainability Manager for a startup, what do you need to do to make this happen? Your life is in your own hands, and as Alex said in Episode 62, you are your best advocate and you need to fill your toolbox with the tools you need to succeed.
8. You deserve to be paid for your time and effort
I wish someone would have told me this when I first started down my path. Maybe I wouldn’t be in so much student loan debt, but hey, that’s my story. One of Rewildology’s next guests is an advocate against exploitation in the conservation field and in that episode, we spend a lot of time discussing this very important topic. To boil it down, you deserve to be paid for your time unless you willingly volunteer for an unpaid opportunity. As you can guess, exploitation isn’t black and white and has a lot of nuance, so hopefully, next month’s episode will help steer you in the right direction if you’re experiencing any self-doubts or are upset that you can’t take on unpaid work in exchange for experience.
Alright, friends. That’s what I have for you for today’s episode. As always, I’d love to talk with you about your thoughts on these themes as shared by Rewildology’s guests. Next month is shaping up to be super fascinating and I can’t wait to share the next round of guests with you. Remember, together, we’ll rewild the planet.
Listen to this episode on YouTube.
Brooke with Rewildology Guests
Links & Resources
Episodes Mentioned in the Show
Ep. 7 Show Notes | Conservation & Congress with Hailey Hawkins
Ep. 37 Show Notes | The (Im)Balance Between Life & Water with Charles van Rees, PhD
Ep. 42 Show Notes | Conservation Meets Psychology: How to Foster Meaningful Engagement with Kayla Cranston, PhD
Ep. 48 Show Notes | Asiatic Lions: Dark Past, Successful Present & Unknown Future with Stotra Chakrabarti, PhD
Ep. 54 Show Notes | Nothing Is Permanent…Except Plastic with Sasha Francis
Ep. 59 Show Notes | Turning the Tide for Sea Turtles with Brad Nahill
Ep. 60 Show Notes | Where Humpback Whales Meet with Frank Garita
Ep. 61 Show Notes | To Spend One Day in Her Shoes: Stories from a Marine Biologist with Christine Figgener, PhD
Ep. 62 Show Notes | Artificial Intelligence: The Next Big Wave in Conservation with Alex Robillard
Ep. 63 Show Notes | Amplifying the Voices of the North through Science & Visual Media with Jenny Wong
“Gray Wolves To Be Removed From Endangered Species List” by Nathan Rott. NPR. Oct 29, 2020
“Judge Restores Federal Protections for Gray Wolves in 44 States” by Corryn Wetzel. Smithsonian Magazine. Feb 15, 2022
Special thanks to Focusrite for the new recording gear!
New kit: Scarlett Solo Studio Kit