How did you get into this field?
I worked as a field biologist for years, researching large mammals, particularly whales off the east coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and Galapagos. The work was fascinating, and much of it involved working with local people and resource conflict issues with the whales (e.g. humpbacks getting caught in fishing gear, dolphins and seals perceived to be eating “all the fish”). I felt somewhat frustrated that our findings were not getting out to the public at all – the main audience for being more aware of, interested in and acting for these animals and their habitat. Public awareness and education seemed to me to be the most important tool for raising awareness and deepening connections to the natural world, to foster conservation efforts, so I went back to school to complete an MSc in Environmental Education.
What are you working on right now?
I have been doing quite a bit of evaluation work of late, both with education programs for non-profits as well as larger scale programs – and recently finished a province-wide evaluation of BC’s idle reduction programs, for municipalities, governments, corporate fleets, schools and communities.
What did the evaluation of the idle reduction program show?
Very interesting results: we surveyed many stakeholders and analyzed a wide range of idle reduction programs, including municipalities, corporations, NGO’s, provincial and federal initiatives, school programs and fleet projects. Generally programs have been successful, particularly ones involving fleets of vehicles, were significant reduction gains were recorded. Ones targeting urban audiences were also effective. Idle reduction initiatives were seen to be “gateway” programs: an easy first step or starting point to beginning more substantive sustainable transportation efforts. Programs showing the most success had a combined approach: involving policies such as bylaws (the “stick” approach”), combined with community-based awareness, education, incentives and technology components.
What is your favorite part of your job?
The great and somewhat unpredictable variety of consulting work – and the wonderful educators, scientists and students I get to meet and be inspired by/learn from!
Has there been an incident during your work that stands out as particularly memorable or that reaffirmed your belief in what you are doing?
Hmmm – that’s a good question – working with young people in nature is always rewarding – you get those precious “ah ha” moments when you get to witness their wonder, excitement, delight , in a discovery. This happens of course with adults as well. I guess also there have been some reaffirming times when long hours of conservation and awareness work have shown good results in a policy change or areas protected – not enough of these alas, but they are significant and need celebrating!
If you could change anything about your work, what would it be?
I would love to see the critical stewardship, conservation and public engagement work out there that so many of us do as volunteers with non-profits prioritized by governments and corporations, and funded accordingly. More and more critical stewardship, research and restoration work is being off-loaded onto community volunteer groups, due to funding cuts – a serious situation.
Where do you find inspiration for the work you do?
From the environment itself: my passion for the natural world – and from working with young people – children have such an innate connection to nature, and their curiosity, playfulness, compassion and openness is inspiring and rejuvenating.
What is your favorite resource or tool for teaching about the environment?
That is a hard question! I have so many – but probably just being outside – getting people of all ages outdoors and awakening their senses, re-connecting us all to the natural world.
Where do you go when you want to recharge your batteries?
I take my dog for a walk by the ocean – just being by the sea, breathing in the salt air and hearing the waves breaking is incredibly therapeutic.
What is your favorite place to visit in the Pacific Northwest?
Another very hard question…! I love the glaciated peaks of Strathcona Park on Vancouver Island and of course, the vastness of Long Beach National Park … and so many other places!
What is your favorite nature/environment book?
Hmmmmm ……..I love anything by Loren Eiseley, Rachel Carson’s A Sense of Wonder, all Mary Oliver’s poems, …. lots more!
Who do you consider your environmental hero?
I have a few, but Rachel Carson is probably my main hero and inspiration – both for her excellent research as a scientist, her determination to put forward her research against huge obstacles, and her wonderful writing and love of nature.
Thanks for your time. Do you have any final thoughts about your work in environmental education, or words of advice to those following in your footsteps?
Just do it, if education calls to you. For many people involved in conservation and stewardship work, the stress and grief and powerlessness of experiencing special places, ecosystems, endangered habitats, species – being lost or degraded is devastating, and often leads to burnout and despair. Working in education and public awareness I believe is the only real tool we have that will effect long term changes for the planet – it is what keeps me and many educators going, and brings many benefits. (Income…?? not so much !)