Friday, December 14, 2012

A True Steward of Conservation

"The environment has so much more to offer us than you know: it nurtures us, it calms us, it entertains us, it does so many things for us, and as a consequence, we have to make sure that we can keep it healthy so we and every other living organism can prosper as well." – Kristi Fukunaga

Kristi Fukunaga in Idaho during her educational travels with USFWS
Credit: USFWS
When you think about the job of the USFWS' Connecting People with Nature Team (CPWN), what you might not think about is that we don't stop our efforts at simply encouraging people to get outside. A large portion of our program helps fund projects that aid groups, especially youth, to connect with nature in ways they wouldn't ordinarily have the opportunity to do on their own.

Shaping the future
When working with youth audiences, our main goal is to help facilitate a lifelong love for nature that they will carry out into their own world, to share with their friends, families and community. Often, we come across a group who go above and beyond what we hope for our youth conservationists. Over five years ago, the CPWN Team began working with a group of girls on conservation projects around Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Hawaii. With some initial funding, the girls were able to travel around the region, meeting local conservationists and learning about many of our local species. This past year, this group of three girls took their passion and knowledge out into the field as part of their gold award for the Girl Scouts of Oregon and SW Washington.

Kristi and fellow Girl Scouts at the USFWS Ashland Wildlife
Forensics Lab in Ashland, Oregon.

Credit: USFWS
From the ground, up
Kristi Fukunaga, one of the three girls, focused her project on the effects of plastics on marine life, a topic close to her heart. Kristi explains that she gained her knowledge and love for nature through her travels with ECO-GIG (Ecology: Girls in Green), where she was given the opportunity to work with a number of USFWS biologists in developing ideas. She then created a project from the ground up that would help her local community understand how tossing their plastics could harm local wildlife, and how they could help make a difference.

Kristi in Idaho working with the Bureau of Land Management
tagging feruginous hawk "chicks."

Credit: USFWS
Spreading knowledge
Her project had two main components, the first of which Kristi described as the most nerve racking, but most rewarding. "I created and gave presentations about plastics and their effects on marine life at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Girl Scout Camps, my Buddhist temple, and my high school. Knowing that I got an environmental issue close to my heart exposed to so many people was the highlight of the project," Kristi shared. Kristi wasn’t all talk, either; her next step was action.

Working with her ECO-GIG group at the
Oregon Coastal National Wildlife Refuge

Credit: USFWS
Passing it on
Kristi then planned and organized recycling and compost stations at an annual picnic that welcomed over 500 guests. She helped explain the proper use of the stations and encouraged members at the picnic to continue using these strategies. "We saved about three quarters of the recyclables and 150 pounds of compostables from entering the landfills. I also documented how these recycling stations can be managed so that the community could continue this effort in the future."

In Kristi's future, she wants to attend college to study biology or environmental science and to one day have a job in the conservation field, she says, "would be perfection."

To be continued...
Kristi's story is a great example of how successful exposing children to nature at a young age can be! If you are interested in learning how Kristi's fellow ECO-GIGers put their love for nature to use, stay tuned, the stories of their projects are an upcoming Faces of Nature feature!

1 comment:

  1. This is so amazing! I got to see just one small part of her project, "the most nerve wracking" when Kristi presented to 1300 of her peers at Wilson High School. She did a wonderful job and the audience showed great respect and appreciation. Now to read about the other pieces makes me so happy to have been part of something so significant and important.