For many of us who enjoy the outdoors, one of its greatest wonders is reveling in the sights & sounds of local wildlife.
The haunting echo of loons during an early morning paddle.
The tracks of an elusive fisher in the freshly fallen snow.
Though sharing our space with wild animals is one of the delights of recalibrating ourselves in nature, it is increasingly clear that the world’s wildlife is in peril.
In North America alone, a recent analysis of its 1,154 bird species revealed 432 species that are at risk of extinction without significant action.
And worldwide, researchers estimate that up to 30 to 50 percent of all species may be heading toward extinction by the middle of the century.
These numbers are staggering, and the scale of threats impacting wildlife – including habitat loss & fragmentation, invasive species, climate change & overexploitation – can feel mind-numbing.
So is there anything we can possibly do to help?
Luckily, the answer is yes.
In December 2013, the United Nations proclaimed March 3 World Wildlife Day to celebrate the world’s wild animals & to galvanize national and international action on their behalf.
While it may seem overwhelming to think that anything you do can make a difference, your actions need not be complex.
And just because you can’t do everything doesn’t meant that you can’t do something.
Indeed, even small actions can create a cascade of change.
So where do you start?
Teddy Roosevelt may have said it best.
Start where you are, with what you have, and move forward with one small, actionable step at a time.
If you need help getting started, check out the ideas below. Remember that you don’t have to take action on ALL of them. Simply choose one action that you can implement in your life right now, and add to it over time.
Cut back on consumption
Without a doubt, some products & services make our lives safer, easier, healthier, more functional or more comfortable.
But product marketing often convinces us that we need things that we don’t, or that we can dispose of what we have without consequence – which sadly isn’t the case.
- Before a purchase – especially an impulse purchase – could you commit to taking a moment to examine your values & regain your composure before moving forward? That pause can help you determine if you’re buying simply to relieve stress or whether that product will genuinely bring you happiness.
- When you feel yourself drawn into a new or existing product, could you pay careful attention to the marketing behind those claims? For example, is it solving a problem that you actually have, or one that it’s convinced you that you have? Can you afford it? Becoming Minimalist offers a number of other excellent questions to ask yourself before making any new purchase – be it clothing, technology or even home decor.
- Is there one item on your usual shopping list that you could decide to buy in bulk (bonus if you could use a reusable or recyclable container!) or perhaps directly from a local farmer to cut down on packaging?
- When buying produce, could you commit to using produce bags only for small items such as green beans, cherries, or Brussels sprouts, or better yet, could you bring reusable bags for those items (note that larger fruits & vegetables, such as apples, oranges, bananas or zucchini don’t need to be bagged at all)?
- Could you bring a reusable mug to your favorite coffee shop rather than rely on their disposable cups & lids?
- Is there an item that you currently buy that might be available in a reusable or more readily recyclable container? For example, in some areas local farmers offer milk in glass containers that can be returned & reused. Egg cartons also can be reused, or repurposed as seed starters if you garden.
- Can you reuse packaging from products you currently buy? For example:
- bags used to package frozen produce, crackers or chips can be used to store foods in the fridge or freezer (especially if they’re resealable).
- old cereal bags can used to pack sandwiches, fruits or similar items.
- jars that once contained salsa, pasta sauce or nut butters can used to store beans, rice, cereal, oats, nuts or similar dry goods.
Rethink your vacation
Vacations are for relaxing, getting out of your routine & making memories – but all of that “fun” may come at a cost.
Activities such as swimming with dolphins, riding elephants or enjoying animals at the zoo can mask the ugly reality that these animals are often mistreated and/or removed from the wild for our entertainment.
If you want to enjoy a more ethical wildlife encounter, make an effort to check into guided birdwatching or other wildlife tours with a good reputation.
You can also look into local programs that use animal ambassadors to educate participants about ecology & conservation.
- Audubon Center for Birds of Prey, Maitland, FL
- Cape May Bird Observatory, Cape May, NJ
- Freeport Wild Bird Supply – Private Guiding Service or Group Tours & Events via Derek Lovitch – based in Freeport, ME
- Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Boca Raton, FL
- Outreach for Earth Stewardship (their facility is not open to the public, but they conduct several programs at Shelburne Farms & beyond), Shelburne, VT
- The Wildlife Center of Virginia, Waynesboro, VA
- Vermont Institute of Natural Science – Quechee, VT
Keep your kitty indoors
Invasive species are one of the biggest threats to wildlife, and our house cats are no exception. In fact, it’s been estimated that cats kill 1.3–4.0 billion birds & 6.3–22.3 billion mammals annually & may be the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for US birds and mammals.
While feral cats cause the majority of this mortality, being a responsible pet owner is key to preventing this problem from becoming even worse.
Luckily, keeping your cat indoors doesn’t just help other animals – it’s also better for your cat.
But if you still want them to enjoy nature, you can build a perch along windowsills, train them to tolerate a harness or leash, or build a “catio” that provides safe access to the outdoors.
Use alternatives to rat poison
As I’ve written before, if you have mice, rats or other rodents in your home or business, bait stations may sound like the perfect solution to guarantee their demise. But unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
While these poisons are indeed effective at killing rodents, they’re also effective at killing wild animals.
Because when predators or scavengers make short work of a dead or dying rodent, they don’t just land a full belly – they also end up with lethal or sublethal secondary poisoning.
Depending upon their size & the amount of poison they consume, one meal may be all it takes before they suffer the same agonizing fate as the rodent, hemorrhaging internally over the course of several days.
In other cases, the poisons may accumulate over multiple meals, which may sicken but not kill them. At least not right away.
And when those animals die, other scavengers or predators such as turkey vultures, raccoons or crows are happy to help themselves to the carcass.
This rapacious cycle is precisely why these poisons are a nightmare. And unfortunately, they lead to hundreds – if not thousands – of deaths each year.
If you have a rodent problem, consider exploring an alternative to bait stations, such as:
- Erecting owl boxes nearby.
- Using single or multi-use traps.
- Using Have-a-Heart traps.
- Installing sonic pest repellents.
- Not hunting or otherwise discouraging predators such as coyotes, foxes, hawks & owls from your land.
- Some people have had luck planting mint around their homes to discourage rodents.
You can also visit www.SafeRodentControl.org for more options & information.
Participate in a citizen science project
If you have time to commit to an organization that studies wildlife, you might consider participating in a citizen science program.
These programs are designed to help scientists collect real data, which volunteers from the general public submit to researchers & are analyzed as part of a collaborative effort either locally or nationwide.
Some projects are long term, while others are short-term. But if you enjoy getting your hands dirty, check out one of these opportunities:
- Several bird-centered programs – via Cornell Lab of Ornithology
- Firefly Watch
- Great Backyard Birdcount – via National Audubon Society
- Monarch Butterfly – Journey North
- Salamander Crossing Brigades – in the Monadnock Region of NH
- Or check out this detailed list from Scientific American
Support an organization that’s rehabbing and/or researching wildlife
If you can’t offer your time, consider offering some funds to help an organization that’s actively working to study & support wildlife.