The second Saturday of October marks the annual Urban Wildlife Conservation Day — a day to celebrate our connections to the outdoors and inspire people from all walks of life to experience the benefits that nature provides. In our densely populated Northeast region, with 37 Urban Refuges and eight out of ten residents living in cities and away from natural spaces, we have an exciting and unique opportunity to enrich our urban communities by forging new pathways to connect with nature.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Urban Wildlife Conservation Program is our initiative to do just that — empower local organizations, cities and towns across the country to seek innovative community-based solutions for wildlife conservation.
Throughout the week, our Urban Refuges and Partnerships across the region host a variety of fun community-focused events to get residents outdoors and engaged. For the Service, promoting conservation and recreation in a safe and inclusive outdoor space is the goal.
Here are just a few of the ways we’re celebrating urban conservation — and a few reasons why we celebrate.
Masonville Cove Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership
The Masonville Cove Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership in Baltimore, Maryland celebrated at the Cove with a weekend of family-friendly activities, including free guided kayaking for beginners, tagging monarch butterflies and a special visit from master falconer Rodney Stotts and his famous birds of prey. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams also stopped by for a visit to join the celebrations. Taking a tour of the Cove’s trails and facilities, Ms. Williams learned about the strong network of partners that has developed since the founding of the Masonville Cove Partnership.
After years of cleanup and restoration thanks to the work of many partnerships and volunteers, today the Cove serves as an important natural habitat for wildlife — especially migratory birds. More than 250 bird species call the Cove home, including Baltimore City’s only pair of nesting bald eagles.
People have benefited too. Baltimoreans come throughout the year to enjoy the beautiful green space and waterfront trails, and the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center provides students of all ages outstanding opportunities for experiential learning to make science come alive. And of course, we can’t forget about Masonville Cove’s very own Captain Trash Wheel — a solar-powered machine dedicated to removing garbage from the Patapsco River.
John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum
This year, John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum hosted a successful Philly Fall Nature Fest in southwest Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Bringing the festivities to three locations in the Kingsessing Neighborhood thanks to the help of partners, the Refuge provided residents with opportunities to see live wildlife, take home free plants, test out their archery and fishing skills, and go kayaking. Refuge Manager Lamar Gore hopped on social media livestreams throughout the day to get the word out, evidently enjoying the strong sense of togetherness and engaging in playful banter with community members.
As the nation’s first Urban Refuge, John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge leads by example. Listening is at the heart of their work in serving their target communities like Kingsessing — a neighborhood representing systematically excluded groups that have historically and currently continue to experience environmental injustices. The Refuge aims to establish, deepen, and broaden their relationships with community members in these neighborhoods to facilitate open and honest conversation about community joys, pride, stressors and needs. These relationships and the conversations they have allow refuge staff and partners to provide community-focused programming that meets the needs and wants of the neighborhoods they serve.
Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership
Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership in Rhode Island celebrated Urban Wildlife Conservation Day with a Biodiversity Bonanza at Neutaconkanut Hill Park. Students from The Paul Cuffee Elementary School’s Wild Kids Club spent the afternoon finding as many animals as possible to learn about the many cool critters that live in the city parks of Providence. In addition, through the generous donation of gently used binoculars collected by the Ocean State Birding Club and Audubon Society of RI, every participant received and got to keep their very own pair of binoculars — a token of encouragement to keep their curiosity for nature alive.
With over 100 existing and accessible parks in the city, the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership aims to connect children and families with nature where they live and work. Providence is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the U.S. and has many underserved communities that lack the resources to experience nature outside of the city. However, 90% of children in Providence live within ten minutes of a park. The Partnership has seized on this opportunity to make Providence’s abundance of green spaces a foundation for education and fun, and to help youth build a long-lasting relationship to the natural world and their communities.
Cultivating a sense of ownership within these youth — ownership of their neighborhood parks and of their experience in nature — is a priority for the Partnership. Whether through summer learning programs, habitat restoration projects or providing free field trips to nearby refuges, the Partnership understands that creating the next generation of conservationists requires kids to know they are safe and belong outdoors.
A commitment to community
Urban Wildlife Conservation Day is a day to get outside and enjoy the beauty of nature, wherever we are. But that’s only one piece of the larger puzzle. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes there is a need to strengthen our connections — not just to nature, but to new diverse audiences in urban communities. The Urban Wildlife Conservation Program is a Service-wide effort to break down those barriers that prevent equitable access to the outdoors.
We all love our fish and wildlife dearly; that will never change. But successful conservation starts with the people. Fostering a love of nature and a sense of shared environmental stewardship requires us to know and relate to our communities, understand their needs, and ensure they see themselves represented in the work we do. That’s why the Urban Wildlife Conservation Program is a win-win for people and nature.