Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Green Leadership Academy: A Bird in the Hand

Common interests bring people together. And so it was the case as GLADE campers arrived on the first day. Their intelligence and love for the outdoors they held in common. However, their backgrounds crossed lines of culture, income, and security. Our GLADE campers came from rich communities and poor communities, from urban settings and rural settings, from strong traditional families and highly dysfunctional families. But all of this was set aside as a common vision of a clean, green, and sustainable planet emerged over the course of a week.

Sunday evening was spent going over the essentials of camp life, discovering our new "Green Tool Kit", a backpack full of essentials, containing binoculars (thanks to Bass Pro Shops), field guides, work gloves, water bottles, and Leopold's A Sand County Almanac. After dinner, we began with an initiative game. The kids began to interact, and met their challenge easily. Monday morning Celeste Prussia opened the day with a motivational presentation on the challenges that we face in restoring, conserving, and protecting species worldwide. This was followed by Becky Gehringer's research on the effects of prescribed burns on Ozarks Woodlands. Students engaged in the work of the forester: measuring diameters, circumferences, and heights of trees, as well as collecting data on biodiversity using quadrants in burned and unburned area. While touring the Drury Mincy Conservation Area, students found that biodiversity can be increased and glades can be restored through the use of prescribed burns. Glades can be defined in the Ozarks as areas of extremely thin soils on slopes facing south or west, and characterized by extensive limestone/dolomite and chert outcroppings.

Monday evening licensed bird bander Andrew Kinslow was outstanding in his plight of the neotropicals presentation. We set up the mistnet for the next morning's activity.

At 6:00 am Tuesday morning, the mistnets were unfurled. Students were well versed on the ethics of mistnetting and eagerly awaited the first catch of the day. "Got one", echoed across the valley, and kids scurried to the net. The entangled bird was difficult to ID at first, probably because of the awkwardness of its predicament. I thought perhaps a Louisiana Waterthrush, but soon recognized it as a young Carolina Wren.
The bird was bagged and taken to the field station for measurements, aging, weighing, and banding. A few students were able to hold it, and became mesmerized, as a calm settled in on the group. The process repeated itself 4 more times during the early morning hours, with 2 Indigo Buntings, 1 Yellow-throated Vireo, and 1 Kentucky Warbler joining the list of mist netted and banded birds. There was magic in the air!But we had only begun. Dr. Brian Greene, Missouri State herpetologist, spent the rest of the day with us, busting myth after myth about Cottonmouths by sharing his research results with the students. We then ventured out to the herp ponds found in the conservation area, collecting multiple salamanders, frogs, and insect species. The evening ended near dusk as Brian shared his absolutely beautiful Cottonmouth, Copperhead, and Pygmy rattlesnake with the group before heading out for his periodic nocturnal amphibian monitoring. Could this academy get any better? Well, as a matter of fact, it was only Tuesday and there was much more to come!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Green Leadership Academy: The GLADE Model

How long has it been since I posted to Conservation Conversations? Sure, a new grandson's arrival in North Carolina prompted a brief and boastful offering from me. As a result, life will never be the same over at The Drinking Bird, but it has clearly changed for the better, and hope springs anew.
Today I bask in the afterglow of highly successful Greater Ozarks Audubon Society effort in environmental education. GLADE came to us last fall as a result of a TogetherGreen innovation grant award. Funded by Toyota Motors and administered by the National Audubon Society, our TogetherGreen grant award was one of only 41 nationwide, and opportunity knocked loudly on the GOAS door.

A perfect storm of sorts brought an eclectic and insightful group of educators together for the project. Lisa Berger, local Audubon activist and visionary, sat with Dr. Janice Greene, Missouri State University Biology Professor specializing in evaluation of science education programs, in a local Panera restaurant and talked about possibilities, forming the framework for a bird camp. I had recently retired from full time teaching and was actively seeking opportunities to increase my role in the conservation movement. When I received an offer from Lisa to direct the new project, I remember replying immediately, "Yes, Yes, Yes", as a wave of gratitude swept over me. Celeste Prussia, manager of the Missouri State Bull Shoals Field Station in Drury-Mincy Conservation Area, joined the team with her exuberant spirit and her expertise in ecological and sustainability issues.

And so our camp plans began. Long a lover of acronyms, I offered up GLADE, Green Leadership Academy for Diverse Ecosystems. It seemed right for our project as it was to be set in the White River Glades and Woodland Important Bird Area (IBA), a region that was once inhabited by Swainson's Warbler and Bachman's Sparrow. Our first mission was evident: to increase biodiversity in hopes of bringing Swainson's Warbler and Bachman's Sparrow, along with other Giant Cane inhabiting species back in sustainable numbers.

In addition, we recruited highly intelligent young conservationists into an academically rigorous, hands on experience in conservation biology. Sixteen high schoolers, pre-screened by area biology teachers, were selected from many highly qualified youth applicants. Experts in the biological field, conservation professionals, and graduate students were brought in daily to expose the students to scientific research, to share their knowledge and insight with the participants, and to illustrate how the scientific method is used to shape public policy in conservation. Our second mission fell into place: to create a new generation of environmental leaders, and closely tie them to the Ozarks bioregional network of "green partners".

Coming from a background in gifted education, I assembled an initiative game based protocol, teaching leadership from the bottom up, and using natural analogies (a simplified example, trees grow strong foundations and reach for the sky, humans should do this, too) to complement the intensive field biology curriculum. We aimed to teach grass roots leadership skills to the young adults: every person has a niche, everyone is a leader, one's role is essential in group problem solving, the challenge is to discern one's role and speak the truth when necessary. Natural extroverts were taught to listen to nature, and to their peers for solutions to challenges presented. Natural introverts were taught that even very small voices, often insightful, hold the key to solutions.
And so the stage was set. The students arrived. More on that tomorrow. I promise.