|Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge Missouri||Steve Hillebrand
If I hadnt been in the right place at the right time, Id probably be working as a business consultant in Manhattan right now.
Instead, though, Im a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Gulf of Maine Coastal Program. Im in this position because an 11week internship turned into a sixyear career filled with amazing wildlife, exciting projects and professional growth.
Some friends I have met along the way havent been so lucky. Even though they are exceedingly wellqualified wildlife biologists who support refuge programs, they move from one seasonal job to another, or they are retained through temporary authorities because field managers dont have the funds or mechanisms to hire them outright.
As we craft our vision for the National Wildlife Refuge System, we need to recommit to engaging youth, improving recruitment and retention, and providing gainful employment for people ages 15 to 24.
We need to hire youth before someone else takes all the talent. Lets get youth out on refuges engaging visitors, managing habitat, monitoring rare species and protecting plants and animals. Lets invite them to join us at the table with our partners. Lets offer them leadership roles and share power and responsibility with them so they can gain the experience necessary to be conservation leaders.
Lets provide tools and resources to break down barriers between our employees and the vast potential for youth recruitment within their communities. Working with youth can invigorate veteran employees, ease negative attitudes, allow everyone to see how capable youth are and encourage thinking about the future of the Service and the Refuge System.
We need to hire youth before someone else takes all the talent.
The Conserving the Future conference youth outreach campaign is bringing in youth from around the country. Some were nominated by refuges and partners to participate; others competed for a chance to attend through our multimedia contest. The goals are to provide leadership opportunities for them, mix up the demographics of the conference and foster multigenerational discourse.
The conference will engage youth through a challenge project, a speedmentoring workshop and various other presentations and discussions. Most important, perhaps, the conference will enable youth participants, Service employees, partners and others to network.
So, please reach across age boundaries and make a connection with the youth participants. Take the time to get to know them. They may be our future, but they are eager to be conservation leaders today.
Mao Lin is chair of the Conserving the Future youth engagement team.