Many Voices for Conservation and the Environment: Charlene West

Charlene West 202010Continuing our series focusing on the contributions of Black Americans, Latin Americans, Native Americans, and other historically under-recognized groups to conservation and environmental sciences, this month we are featuring local Eastern Bluebird hero Charlene West.

Charlene is retired from the US Navy and in 2014 her son left for college, leaving her more free time for exploring nature and the outdoors. She and a friend began participating in local hiking trips with various groups and started attending bird walks hosted by Duval Audubon Society as well. She has been a nature and bird enthusiast for many years.

In early 2020 Laura Johannsen, the Northside Bluebird Trail monitor, needed assistance with monitoring while she was out of town for work. Charlene volunteered to help and started monitoring the more than thirty Eastern Bluebird nesting boxes in the Yellow Bluff Road area of Jacksonville in March.

Northside Bluebird Trail Maxs Farm Charlene West 20200524The original boxes were set up over thirty years ago by Duval Audubon members Mildred Dixon and Pat Anderson, and about ten years later Laura took over the responsibility of checking each box weekly during nesting season and reporting the status of each box to Cornell Lab of Ornithology's NestWatch program. Over the years Laura has created a valuable dataset on Jacksonville-area Bluebirds (not to mention helping these birds survive and breed), so it was critical to be able to continue this effort while Laura was away.

Charlene’s commitment to monitoring the Northside Bluebird Trail during this year’s nesting season has been invaluable, and she went out at least once a week for the entire six months (March to August) to check all of the nesting boxes, a chore that took about two hours each time. She reported a total of 32 nesting attempts, 112 eggs, and 99 fledglings. Charlene tells us that it was a memorable experience.

Charlene, we thank you for your dedication and hard work on behalf of Jacksonville’s Eastern Bluebirds!

Many Voices for Conservation and the Environment: Robin Wall Kimmerer

Continuing our series focused on the contributions of Black Americans, Latin Americans, Native Americans, and other historically under-recognized groups to conservation and environmental sciences, since October 12th is Indigenous Peoples Day, it is only right to focus this month on an indigenous steward of the environment.

Kimmerer BioRobin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potowatomi Nation. She lives in Fabius, New York (near my hometown of Syracuse) where she is a SUNY (State University of New York) Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology.

She has written two excellent books which I highly recommend: Gathering Moss, which was awarded the John Burroughs Medal for outstanding nature writing. and Braiding Sweetgrass, which I am happy to report has been on the NY Times Best Seller List for nonfiction. Braiding Sweetgrass is an exquisite collections of essays about the natural world which shows how the objective approach of science can be enriched by the ancient knowledge of the indigenous people. I encourage everyone to read this book as she writes so beautifully about nature. It also illustrates the true reverence between Native Americans and the earth, which is a relationship we all need to practice if we are to survive.

She is also the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. The mission of the center is to create programs that draw on the wisdom of both indigenous and scientific knowledge in support of our shared goals of environmental sustainability. It is important to note that indigenous peoples are the stewards of 4% of the land area of the United States and represent approximately 700 distinct communities possessing detailed knowledge of the biota of their homelands. Collectively, Native American land holdings contain more wild lands than all of the National Parks and Nature Conservancy areas in North America! Unfortunately, the majority of scientific professionals and educators have little understanding of the value of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). Exposure to TEK has a legitimate role in the education of the next generation of biologists, natural resource managers, and environmental scientists.

The center has a large outreach program focused on increasing educational opportunities for Native American students in environmental sciences, research collaborations, and partnerships with Native American communities to address local environmental problem.

Thank you for your amazing work and gifts, Robin.

Many Voices for Conservation and the Environment: Gloria McNair

Continuing our series focused on the contributions of Black Americans, Latin Americans, Native Americans, and other historically under-recognized groups to conservation and environmental sciences, this month we are spotlighting local environmental hero Gloria McNair.

Gloria McNairGloria is the Community Engagement Coordinator for Groundwork Jacksonville, the city’s primary nonprofit organization specifically created to clean and redevelop Jacksonville’s Emerald Trail and convert contaminated land into parks, playgrounds, trails, and other public greenspace. Her role is to engage Jacksonville citizens, especially residents from historically underserved urban neighborhoods, in visioning, advocating for, and shaping Groundwork projects such as the restoration of McCoy’s Creek and building the Emerald Trail. She identifies and meets with leaders and stakeholders to share information, gain support, and learn the needs of the communities impacted by Groundwork Jacksonville initiatives.

She is also the manager of Groundwork Jacksonville's Community Restoration Environmental Stewardship Training (CREST) initiative. CREST participants are residents or stakeholders in Jacksonville's North Riverside and Brooklyn neighborhoods, and the program pairs youths and adults in mentoring relationships. In addition, there is a job training element; currently, five of the CREST apprentices have been trained as water monitoring technicians.

Working with Groundwork Jacksonville brought back memories of her rural upbringing when she absolutely loved nature, and she is concerned because today’s youth are missing out on the wonders of the outdoors and the natural world. She is most passionate about habitat restoration and conservation for people and wildlife, especially our birds. The greatest benefit she has received from working from home in recent months is being able to take breaks to walk outside and observe the hawks, herons, egrets, and turtles around her lake.

CREST Groundwork Jax 20191123 4Gloria loves and believes in the benefits of the projects of Groundwork Jacksonville. She is looking forward to seeing the first mile of the Emerald Trail become a reality and knowing that she played a significant role in achieving that project. Another long-term goal is seeing the McCoy’s Creek Restoration Project completed and enjoyed by the neighborhood.

Duval Audubon had the pleasure of working with Gloria and the CREST participants last year. We presented a "Birdwatching for Beginners" program for the group and hosted a bird walk around McCoy’s Creek. We plan to continue to provide educational programs and bird walks to the CREST volunteers when our outdoor activities resume.

Thank you for your hard work and dedication, Gloria!

Many Voices for Conservation and the Environment: Chris Conner

Chris Connor

In recognition of the need for environmental organizations like ours to do a better job of representing diverse voices, we are beginning a new series highlighting the contributions of African Americans, Latin Americans, and Native Americans to conservation and environmental sciences. We are thrilled to kick things off by introducing our newest board member Christopher Conner, who will serve as our Volunteer Director.

Chris is the coordinator of the Jacksonville Zoo’s W.I.L.D. (Wildlife Immersion and Leadership Development) Program, which focuses on youth engagement, literacy, environmental education, cultural representation, and inclusion. Since its 2016 inauguration, the mostly Black and Latinx teens involved have created award-winning outreach programs, amassed nearly $1 million in college scholarships, and achieved global recognition for their work. The W.I.L.D. program and its staff have received several awards, including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums 2017 Significant Achievement in Diversity Award, the North American Association for Environmental Education Under 30 Global Awards (twice), the Jax Teen Champion Award, and the 2019 12 Who Care Community Service Award.

Chris has always had an innate passion for wildlife and greenspaces. He ventured into conservation education with the specific intention of reimagining the face of environmental education and championing cultural representation and social equity. He is most passionate about environmental literacy and equity, as our journey to sustainability will require many different approaches and voices. He believes that everyone should have the opportunity to learn about the environment and build their relationship with nature on their own terms. As Chris says, “Nature is owned by no one, yet represents us all. Therefore, all of our voices should be echoed when championing for it.”

Going forward, Chris plans to continue with his current work as the W.I.L.D. Program Coordinator, and one of his goals for 2020 is to create a nature podcast that connects to a wider audience for nature, and moves environmental literacy forward in a way that is entertaining and informative.

Thank you for your work for the environment, Chris!