Session of the Week: 21st century wildlife outreach

By Dana Kobilinsky

Children play test a wildlife game for a current Michigan DNR Wildlife Division game project. Games are one way wildlifers can do outreach in the 21st century. ©Michigan Department of Natural Resources

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We’re now in a world where being on social media is expected. But what does this mean for wildlife outreach?

During a symposium called “21st Century Wildlife Outreach: Breaking the Mold to Broaden the Mission” at the upcoming TWS conference in Cleveland, Ohio, speakers will discuss a broad range of techniques to share wildlife conservation and biology, from mobile games to ecological films.

“It will be a ridiculous amount of fun,” © Karen Cleveland, a wildlife biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division and lead organizer of the symposium. “We’re not going with PowerPoints with slides and bullet points. We’re all going to tell a story.”

Cleveland started off her career as a standard wildlife biologist, but 17 years into her career she changed her career path to game design. She’s now designing wildlife-themed games for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

She hopes attendees learn from the speakers how to leave their comfort zones of simple press releases or social media outreach. Those are still important, she said, but there are some more novel approaches. “It’s not so much that social media is a bad thing,” she said. “But what are you doing with that medium that’s different and engages people more?”

One speaker that attendees can look forward to is a game warden who was the point of contact for the producers of the “North Woods Law” show on Animal Planet, which highlights on-the-ground management of wildlife crime. He will discuss the impacts the show has had in the wildlife field, including increases in people showing up to recruitment programs. “It actually does have a real world impact, but it’s not necessarily a walk in the park and bright shiny rainbows,” Cleveland said. “There’s strategic thinking on how they portray themselves.”

Other speakers will discuss visual storytelling developed in partnership between museums and colleges and other partners that people might not traditionally think of. One of those partners includes two young teen girls who are the driving force behind the company Two Sisters in the Wild who developed card games and mobile games based on food webs and ecosystems.

Cleveland hopes people who do wildlife outreach and communication specialists attend the symposium and walk away with some new ideas. And while science communication is a profession in itself, Cleveland also hopes wildlife scientists attend and get some ideas that they can share with other communicators on their projects or do simplified versions on their own if they don’t have the time and resources to implement a large project.

“It will be a really good time,” she said.

The following is a list of speakers at the symposium:

Thinking Out-of-the-Box When Building Your Outreach Team — Kelly Siciliano Carter

Fun Field Guides For Everyone — Kendra Wecker

Mixing Media and Messages in Wildlife Outreach is a Bear! — Katie Keen

Ohio’s Wildlife Diversity Conference: How to create a conference to communicate science in a fun and entertaining format — Kendra Wecker

MI Birds: Bridging Divides Between Consumptive and Nonconsumptive Users — Holly Vaughn

The City Nature Challenge: Engaging the Public Through Citizen Science — Ashley Hall

Environmental Visual Communication: The Art and Science of Storytelling — Josh Feltham

Our YouTube Celebrities Have Scales — Hannah Schauer

North Woods Law – Lessons Learned — John MacDonald

What Happens When Game Management Meets Game Design? — Karen T. Cleveland

Wildlife Outreach is Too Important to be Left to Adults — Athia, Maia and Jason Strohm

Hunt and Win: Using Contests to Increase Participation and Revenue — John Cawood

Bringing Wildlife to School: Engaging Students and Teachers on STEAM through Wildlife Programs — David Wheeler

Biologists Meet the Benchmarks: How the Academy of Natural Resources Puts Resource Management in the Classroom. — Kevin Frailey

Deer, Grouse, Turkey…Oh My! A Unique Approach to Investing in Teens as Conservation Leaders — Michele Kittell

Supported by: Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division

Lead Organizer: Karen T. Cleveland

Dana KobilinskyDana Kobilinsky is a science writer at The Wildlife Society. Contact her at dkobilinsky@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about her article. You can follow her on Twitter at @DanaKobi.

Read more of Dana's articles here.


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