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Exploring Jamestown’s Wild Side with RTPI

Posted on Jun 23, 2016

Summer has officially arrived – the season for cookouts, campouts, beach-going, ballgames and so many other outdoor engagements. How often, though, do most of us pause during these bustling activities to take in the details of our natural surroundings? That bee buzzing around the watermelon at your barbeque, those ants parading around the popsicle stick on the sidewalk, the crow pecking at your trash bag on the curb – do you ever stop to ponder their role in our world, or do you swat, step on or shoe them without a second thought? How does the wildlife in your community affect you? What would happen if it wasn’t there or if it was replaced by different organisms – would you even notice? We can all benefit from firsthand observation of the natural world and an increased understanding of its importance to human life — environmental study isn’t only relevant to experts and special interests.

Roger Tory Peterson Institute’s educational programs aim to promote the natural world as a community asset and to demonstrate the direct relationship between the health of our region’s ecosystems and the health of its population and economy. Local surroundings can provide an engaging context for the study of natural history and its relationship to other aspects of humanity. With this in mind, RTPI is launching its second annual Project Wild America Youth Ambassadors (PWA) Program in Jamestown.

PWA Youth Ambassadors are local high school and college students that have been hired by RTPI to work alongside our conservation staff for the summer. Building on our successes from 2015, students enrolled in RTPI’s PWA program will immerse themselves in Jamestown’s ‘urban ecosystem’. They will explore and identify the flora and fauna that thrive in our city, study the unique spiny softshell turtle and other aquatic life in the Chadakoin River and Chautauqua Lake, perform water quality and pollution assessments of these waterways, lead efforts to improve our local habitats such as trash cleanups and mapping invasive plants, and communicate their experiences and findings to the community through various media outlets and special events.

My son Oliver assists the PWA crew leaders in the identification and mapping of invasive plant species on the RTPI trails.

My son Oliver assists the PWA crew leaders in the identification and mapping of invasive plant species on the RTPI trails.

By empowering these young people to become active participants in the exploration and appreciation of our local natural resources, we impart relevant job skills and facilitate critical thinking and positive action. The applied study of natural history and natural resource conservation on a local level can nurture an increased awareness and understanding of global environmental issues. What’s more, the personal experience and regional knowledge acquired through this type of program can encourage local retention of graduates with degrees in the natural sciences.

From his youngest years in Jamestown to the day he died, Roger Tory Peterson immersed himself in nature and used his self-acquired knowledge and talents to familiarize people worldwide with their backyard plants, animals, and habitats. Starting with A Field Guide to the Birds in 1934, and subsequent books, magazine articles, and lectures, Peterson spent a lifetime providing anyone who wanted to learn about nature with accessible tools to facilitate exploration, and instilled a sense of wonder in the general public. Through his keen observations, Peterson was also able to identify signs of environmental problems as exemplified by his recognition that birds of prey were declining as a consequence of widespread use of the pesticide DDT.

Peterson was once quoted as saying; “We are too close to ourselves, much of the time, to see our proper relation to the natural world, on which we depend for survival. Watching birds and other animals seems to clarify my perspective.” Remarkable discoveries can still be made in our own city or our backyards- and a better understanding, stronger appreciation, and sense of stewardship for our wild neighbors and our shared habitats can enhance and inform our lives in unimaginable ways. To learn more about the PWA Youth Ambassadors and to keep up with their explorations this summer, visit their website: projectwildamerica.org. For more about this and our other programs and events, visit rtpi.org.

~Melanie Smith – Communications Coordinator