C.A.R.I.N.G. about the Environment

The way humans interact with their environment has always interested me. I’ve spent much of my life living in a rural area, surrounded by trees and the sweet sounds of wildlife – from the all- night chirping of crickets, to the loud screams of the Eastern Screech-owl (like the Wildlife Center of Virginia’s Alex and Pignoli). I have woken up to a flock of wild turkeys in my backyard, I’ve had a rather huge turtle try to lay eggs in my pool, and I learned to drive slowly at night to avoid hitting deer (who are inevitably nearby, nibbling away at my garden.)

Being raised around all of these wild creatures has taught me how to respect and appreciate them, because I have seen firsthand the consequences of human actions (like littering, using barbed wire fencing, and carelessly disposing of chemicals) for the animals in my backyard.

I understand that many people don’t have the chance to put a “face to the cause”, so to speak, when it comes to human-wildlife interactions; which is why outreach from places like the Wildlife Center of Virginia is so important. These outreach efforts help connect human actions to their effects on real animals.

When I was about ten years old, my family moved from our rural home in the woods into an apartment complex; while living there, I directly experienced some of the ways humans negatively impact the environment.

My sister and I enjoyed exploring, and we found that there was a beautiful stream not too far into the woods behind the complex. The water was about ankle- or knee-deep (on a ten-year-old) and there was thriving plant and animal life along the bank. We loved to hike up and down that stream and sit on the fallen logs in the summer when it got hot.

Unfortunately, along with all of the frogs, insects, and plants around the water, we also found trash. A lot of trash. We’d always been taught to not litter and had even participated in numerous road cleanup projects with various school groups, so our initial response was to do what we could to clean up the stream. As any ten-year-old knows (or maybe this was just a 90’s kid thing) clubs are where it’s at. So, being the cool kids that we were, we started an environmentalism club called C.A.R.I.N.G. which stood for Children Addressing Recycling Issues and Nature Growth – we were all about the acronyms back then. We convinced some of the other kids who lived in the apartments to join us, and our parents led a monthly cleanup day where we all went out and picked up trash and things that didn’t belong in the stream. We even participated in our state’s Adopt-A-Stream program.

I bring this story up not to talk about myself, but to talk about the potential of any one person to make a positive difference in their environment. We hear it a lot today that it only takes one person to make a difference, and in many cases it can be difficult to believe. But it is the truth. You don’t have to be a professional to make a positive impact on the life of an animal or in the environment.* There are so many ways, small and large, that our actions on a day-to-day basis can have a huge impact.

For instance, my family now lives in a rural area again with a big front yard that is currently pretty much just dirt. Instead of laying grass seed, we plan to instead plant white clover in order to attract and feed bees, with hopes that it will encourage population growth. We also plant so-called butterfly bushes (plants that are colorful and shaped well for butterflies to feed on) and have a couple of apple trees that not only feed us, but also many members of the local deer population.

Little things like these can have a huge impact on the wildlife in your area. One of the most important things we can do – which is in my opinion one of the easiest things – is to not litter. This includes not only non-biodegradable objects like cans, bottles, and plastic bags, but also throwing organic materials like apple cores and other leftovers on to the side of the road. Such a thing puts animals in danger by encouraging them to feed near speeding cars. Many of the animals admitted to the Center come to us because they have been hit by vehicles, including our Red-tailed Hawk, Ruby.

Turning your yard into a safe and healthy space for wildlife and keeping your surrounding environment clean from pollution and litter are great ways to help the environment, and people of any age can be involved. Also, teaching the kids in your life to be respectful of nature and to not litter is easy and helps instill a lifelong appreciation of, and dare I say love of, wildlife and the environment. It certainly worked for me.

*I do want to emphasize here that, while it is important to be environmentally aware and there is plenty you can do to benefit wildlife, handling wildlife should always be left to professionals and direct interaction should be a last resort.

-- Ashley
WCV Class of 2016