The United States is home to over 562 wildlife refuges. Yet, many Americans don’t even know they exist. Lynnea Shuck is working to change that. At just 13 years old, Lynnea began volunteering with the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. At age 17, Lynnea created the Junior Refuge Ranger Program, giving young children the opportunity to learn about the refuge in a series of fun, interactive lessons and activities. Now in her senior year at Harvard, Lynnea is working to expand her program to wildlife refuges around the United States.
Lynnea describes how childhood experiences in nature inspired her interest in environmental stewardship. “Growing up, my family explored the beautiful landscapes around the bay area together. One of my first memories actually is going to the bird walks and educational programming at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I just absolutely loved it, from the brightly-colored salt marshes to the birds that called the marsh home. When I was in seventh grade, I knew I wanted to return and give back to the community.”
As a seventh grader, Lynnea joined a volunteer program for teens called Habitat Heroes. Through this program, Lynnea began volunteering at Don Edwards nearly ever weekend. She quickly fell in love with wildlife refuges. Lynnea likes “to think about our national wildlife refuges as our nation’s hidden jewels. The national wildlife refuge system encompasses about 150 million acres of incredible landscapes – forests, deserts, salt marshes, grasslands – really you name it. National Wildlife Refuges are really special because their primary mission is conservation.” This focus on conservation as well as little to no entry fees sets the refuges apart from other preserved land such as national and state parks. The refuges provide visitors a unique opportunity to see native animals, plants, and landscapes close to their homes. “There’s a National Wildlife Refuge within a one-hour drive of nearly every major city!”
Lynnea’s passion for the National Wildlife Refuge System led her to create the Junior Refuge Ranger program. Her inspiration to create the program came while she was leading a talk at Don Edwards. “Out of the corner of my eye there was this little boy who was so captivated by my talk about the Black-necked stilts and American Avocets. Afterwards he really lingered to ask questions and show me the birds he saw through the binoculars. It felt incredible to know that I had just introduced a whole new world to a young person, someone who was my age when my parents first took me to Don Edwards. After that, I knew I wanted to create more experiences like that for kids.”
With the support of dedicated staff at Don Edwards, Lynnea created the Junior Refuge Ranger program. The program teaches kids ages 7 to 12 the importance of saving endangered species, habitat protection, and the critical role of the National Wildlife Refuge system through hands-on experiences. Each child receives a booklet and has the opportunity to earn badges based on completion of activities like hiking and birding. According to Lynnea, “it’s one thing to learn about plants in a textbook. Through this program, kids are going outside, they’re learning how to identify birds, they taste the salt marsh pickleweed that sustains the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse. I want to inspire kids to one day become volunteers themselves and lifelong stewards of the National Wildlife Refuge System.”
Lynnea recalls witnessing firsthand the positive impact her program was having on the kids at Don Edwards. “I remember one of the programs that I led as a senior in high school. I was talking about citizen science and the role of research at the refuge. Afterwards, one ten year old girl asked me how she could start her own research project at the refuge. And there was another boy who asked me how he could sign up to be a permanent volunteer for the refuge. That was, I think, one of the most rewarding moments of the program. Just knowing that the program had inspired kids to want to return and contribute to the conservation of the natural world.”
Her advice to other young activists is to “do what you love. Stand up and advocate for what you believe in. Be unafraid to imagine a world that is different than the way it is now. Be unafraid to reach out to others, because it’s only by working together that we can make an impact. Junior Refuge Ranger is a team effort. And see your ideas through! I’ve been leading Junior Wildlife Rangers for six years; it’s been nine years since I started volunteering at Don Edwards. To see my ideas and vision come to life, and most of all, to see how it gives kids opportunities they might not other wise have had—that’s an amazing feeling.”
Find a local wildlife refuge near you by visiting https://www.fws.gov/refuges/
Learn more about junior refuge rangers at http://www.juniorwildliferanger.org
Creating the Junior Refuge Rangers
By Lindsay Shaffer
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