As I set up my fourth to sixth grade classroom next to the “Tall Tree” I felt dwarfed by the magnificence of the towering old growth forest that surrounded me. The plaque in front of the tree said the tree was 42 feet around, and 359 feet tall, when it was measured in 1957. When a new group would come through, the children would all run over to the tree and plead with their chaperones to have their picture taken with the giant redwood.
After they explored the tall tree, I would call the children over to learn about forest ecology, how forests help keep the rivers healthy by keeping the water clean, preventing floods and providing shade, habitat and food for salmon, and how the salmon eventually become fertilizer for the forest. Then I expressed the importance of protecting wild places, because these trees would not be here if they were not protected.
There is a lone wolf in Oregon that strayed from its pack, and began coming in and out of California. Upon learning of this wolf in the region, several ranchers and even public officials publically stated that they would kill it on sight if they found it. So we joined with a coalition of people and groups to get protections for the wolf so that if it came to California, it would be safe. At the wolf hearing my two-year old son stood up in front of the Fish and Game Commission during the public comment session in front of a packed house with hundreds of people and shouted into the microphone “Protect wolves!” As people teared up hearing the plea of a little boy who wants to see wolves protected, the next commenter announced that the lone wolf “Journey” has just been confirmed to have puppies!” The crowd rejoiced and soon after, the Commission voted 3-1 to grant wolves protections under the Endangered Species Act. Someone chimed in and said, “See, it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can still make a difference.”
Next, I showed them the photographs of some the critters we advocate for in our region and asked them to choose one of the animals and make a poster for it. The things they came up with were so inspiring, I decided to bring them back to the office and begin sending them to decision-makers as issues come up relating to each animal.
I taught 180 students that day, and I learned from 180 students also. Now I’m hoping that the wisdom of these children will help to remind those in power of the importance of protecting wildlife and wild places for future generations.