Perspectives From Our Wetland Heroes: Part 3

Friday, May 15, 2020

Outdoor Education and Science Coordinator, Plumas County Office of Education

The Environmental Law Institute (ELI) is pleased to announce the winners of the 31st Annual National Wetlands Awards: Mark Beardsley; John W. Day Jr.; Trinity Favazza; Ted LaGrange; Sam Lovall; and Robert Wade. Together, these awardees have restored, researched, and protected thousands of acres of wetlands nationwide; their examples have inspired many members of their community to act and make a difference to protect and improve these vital natural resources.

ELI will honor these six wetlands champions virtually via a month-long digital campaign throughout May, which is also National Wetlands Month. As part of this campaign, ELI has invited each of our six awardees to contribute, in pairs, their unique perspectives on wetlands protection to a post for ELI’s Vibrant Environment blog. Today’s piece features contributions from Trinity Favazza, winner of the Youth Leadership category, and Rob Wade, winner of the Promoting Awareness category.

The Important Role of Education in Promoting Wetlands Protection

(by Trinity Favazza)

Seed the earth by educating future generations, without focusing on outdated curricula and a lack of hands-on experience. To reach kids, nowadays, to plant seeds that will grow, let them use their interactive, multimedia approach to lay down their own roots.

Growing environmental heroes today and in the coming generations is critical to the preservation of our wetlands. In the relatively short amount of time that I’ve been actively involved in amphibian and wetlands conservation and awareness, it has become apparent to me that reaching my generation with this message will be a challenge. Human interaction has evolved, and family activities are influenced by technology, which draws a lot of kids away from outdoor activities. My inspiration comes from my personal experiences with my family, in the wetlands we visit and learn about regularly. I’m lucky to have this family-directed education as a fundamental part of my life. Today’s children need someone or something to lead them to the crazy, extreme, and cool things they can see, feel, and be a part of at the water’s edge. They need to know about the wetlands and the responsibility that they have to them.

Education about wetlands protection, whether it be at school, online, or home, needs to draw us into or take place in wetland environments. It is far more influential to have physical experiences within the wetlands. It leaves long-lasting impressions in our memories. With this type of connection, exposure, and inspiration, we will be more likely to share our drive to protect them with those around us. The youth of today, by sharing their passion, can influence adults around them and effect political change. Educational fieldwork that includes contributing to the well-being of our wetlands, consistently, is imperative. Family members and teachers being involved in enrichment and environmental service projects are best suited to guide and influence upcoming generations. Classes can contribute directly to protecting wetlands and stimulate peer-to-peer interaction. This inter

Social media can also influence peer involvement, leading to social change. It becomes educational entertainment through peer interactions. It’s a youthful approach to conservation education that positively connects with my generation. With so many social media and online platforms available, it’s inspiring to think about the possibilities when we all get involved! As an ambassador for amphibian conservation and wetland protection, I’ve taken advantage of these resources through my website, Action for Amphibians, and my Instagram hub @actionforamphibians.action can weave the experiences into personal relationships and become a normal part of life. I believe this should be an integral part of educational curricula around the world.

With greater wetland education involvement now, we can protect our wetlands for the future. I think that my generation has the drive and creativity, no matter how crazy it may seem, to influence and educate the public about wetland conservation by using a variety of platforms. My generation will lead, with the knowledge we gain from our teachers, our families, and yes, even our peers. For us to be educated and inspired, we need to be immersed in the wonders of wetland conservation. Plant the seed and watch us trend.

The Important Role of Education in Wetlands Protection

(by Rob Wade)

For the past 19 years, I’ve led sixth-grade students in California’s Sierra Nevada region on a series of field trips that extend from the headwaters of the Upper Feather River Watershed down to the Pacific Ocean. Over the course of a literal watershed year, the students travel several hundred miles on a number of truly epic, and much anticipated, adventures. Every sixth-grade student in my region has experienced this “mountain kid” rite of passage. On a recent “Zoom” meeting with the students, they clearly have learned so much about our watershed. But because of the pandemic, this year will be different, and the end of their yearly adventure will be cut short.

Beyond the familiarity of our home in the largest watershed in the Sierra Nevada lies the massive Central Valley, the Sacramento Delta, and, finally, the largest estuary on the West Coast—the San Francisco Bay Estuary. In a typical year, the students’ final week-long trip follows our Feather River water through many converted wetlands that no longer exist—wetlands that had no voice, no advocates, just reclamation opportunities, and an open season for conversion. Students would do more than cover ground and river miles; they would travel through time and witness a history of choices and consequences.

The experience is fun, but it is a sometimes gritty and grueling experience that students hold dear for the rest of their lives. This is not the only K-12 experience we provide in the region, but it is the oldest and the most enduring. Unforgettable. We need peak experiences and impacts that are unforgettable, for it is in education that hope is fostered and habit is forged.

I often proffer, “What good is it to understand concepts like carrying capacity, if a person’s caring capacity is not also cultivated?” It is for this reason that I work with youth. Children are still forming their ideas of the world, developing their opinions and values, and curating their attitudes and behaviors. These are the soon-to-be voters and leaders, but right now they are explorers and investigators, driven by curiosity and joy. Putting these kids in a raft and floating down the Feather River allows them to see remnant wetland slices of what once was and helps them better understand concepts such as cause and effect, change over time, and structure and function. The experience helps them to understand that what they think matters, and that what they do about what they think really matters. This builds the endurance of protection, a kind of perpetuity filled with stories. 

Education can assure that what we care about now can be here tomorrow. If we provide time and space for children to connect, explore, discover, and even act, we will not lose ground but hold it. Like the land retains water in natural conservation, education can help retain a value for watered land in cultural conservation. Every student can be a steward, and the voice children can give to wetlands will lead to greater choice for all of us in the future.