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Finding the Next Generation of Conservationists

Connecticut Audubon Society's "State of the Birds" Report 2012 outlines goals for education, awareness.

Kids these days while away the hours playing _____ (fill in the blank). If your response was Angry Birds, you’re probably not alone, but where does that leave our real feathered friends? If children aren't exposed to nature, who will replenish the current ranks of conservationists? Who will protect birds and their habitats?

This was the subject of a press conference at Connecticut Audubon Society’s (CAS) headquarters in Fairfield on Friday, which coincided with the release of the State of the Birds Report 2012. The 27-page report is subtitled: "Where is the next generation of conservationists coming from?”

Losing Billions of Birds a Year
Stephen Oresman, Chairman of the Board of CAS, writes in the report that human activity and habitat destruction are major threats to birds. Window strikes, cat predation, deer over-browsing, and invasive plants and animals kill billions of birds in the US each year.

And, while most products of the boom generation have memories of time spent outdoors exploring the woods and creeks, this is simply not the reality for children today.

Electronic Distractions
A survey of 400 Audubon members cited in the 2012 State of the Birds report listed electronic distractions as the number one constraint to children exploring the outdoors, with over-programmed schedules, concerns for safety and tick-borne illnesses following on the list.

Conservation Issues Excluded from Schools’ Science Curriculum
Though passion for conservation was high at the press conference, CAS Science and Conservation Director Miley Bull notes in the Report that school districts are heavily focused on standardized exams and, despite efforts to promote conservation education, the presentation, management and care of natural resources is still not a part of the science curriculum.

Newly appointed CAS Director of Education, Michelle Eckman, cited a correlation of time spent outdoors and rates of ADHD, obesity, and depression. She detailed how CAS plans to increase education efforts by collaborating with the state schools systems and individual teachers.

Increasing Conservation Education
Amanda Flanagan of the John Patrick Flanagan Foundation described the Trailblazers program that brings city kids to the outdoors. Her foundation has provided transportation for over 1,000 Bridgeport students to visit Fairfield Audubon since 2010.

DEEP Deputy Commissioner Susan Frechette recalled learning as a child about owl pellets and deer tracks, as well as wandering into the woods and building dams and forts for hours on end. To that end, she mentioned DEEP and CAS plans for May 5 “Spring Sprint” to be held at a now-secret location on May 5. The event, timed to celebrate the 20th anniversary of International Migratory Bird Day, aims to give families a chance to explore and acquire knowledge first hand.

Other CAS projects include the development of an award program for Boy Scouts who demonstrate exemplary environmental education work, a series of roundtable discussions to raise awareness of the issue, (at Fairfield on April 12). Lastly, signups for summer camp registration begin Monday, Feb. 13.

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