Junior Wildlife Ranger
Junior Wildlife Ranger rectifies inequality in environmental science education in communities around the United States.
Junior Wildlife Rangers participate in our program at the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
All smiles here after restoring native Bay Area habitat! We piloted our Stewardship Badge this summer at the Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge, and kids loved it. The badge rewards kids who volunteer at their local National Wildlife Refuge, and it allows youth to see themselves as the solution to environmental issues.
Our volunteer program allows college-age students and young professionals to give back.
We are a youth-led project for youth. Our leadership team (from left) is: Emi Fogg, Lynnea Shuck, and Anjali Suresh. We have been leading the project together since 2015.
Junior Wildlife Ranger employs models to show kids how salt marshes can protect human communities from extreme weather events, such as a tidal wave. This activity was developed in concert with Jose Garcia, park ranger at Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge.
We are a project of the Earth Island Institute, a 501(c)3 dedicated to supporting innovative solutions to environmental issues. They kindly supported the creation of this video for us.
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Junior Wildlife Ranger
c/o Earth Island Institute
2150 Allston Way, Suite 460
Berkeley, CA 94704
Website or social media url(s) (optional):
Date You Started Your Project Started
03/01/2013: First Jr. Ranger Program at Don Edwards Nat'l Wildlife Refuge
Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.
Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)
1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?
The average visitor to a National Wildlife Refuge does not reflect the diversity of the United States. 96% of visitors are white, and the average age of a visitor is 56 years old. How can we ensure that youth of all backgrounds and levels of wealth are able to access lands that are for the public benefit? How can we fill the educational gap at many underfunded and understaffed National Wildlife Refuges and other public lands?
2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
At Junior Wildlife Ranger, we solve the visitor-diversity problem by starting Jr. Ranger programs at National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs). Though lesser-known than National Parks, NWRs are an ideal partner given their accessibility--they have no entry fees, and are within an hour of every major city.
Our first Jr. Ranger program started in Alviso, CA at Don Edwards NWR. Through hands-on activities, participants gained both a physical badge and a sense of ownership of their public lands. We have since made the process of starting a Jr. Ranger program cross-country as turnkey as possible through our How-To Kit and volunteer boots on the ground.
With this physical expansion, we’re also building our technological platform to turn one-time visitors into lifelong environmental stewards. Children in the pilot Bay Area program unlock digital badges and, soon, will be able to upgrade their badge each time they volunteer or visit. Though Silicon Valley is known as a place of great wealth and innovation, we realize much of this technology has yet to reach underserved populations nationwide. Our project makes tech an educational equalizer for the environmental movement.
3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?
Beginning in middle school, I spent each month volunteering at the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge. Located in Alviso, CA, it is the largest estuary on the West Coast--the ideal outdoor classroom. But not everyone uses it equally. Kids from a gifted summer intensive, for instance, converged at the refuge one summer to see conservation efforts firsthand. However, I noticed that many local kids were not taking advantage of the same opportunities, even though they were just as capable of learning science concepts as the kids from the intensive. I wanted to create a program that would make environmental science accessible to all kids.
I launched the first Jr. Wildlife Ranger program at Don Edwards when I was in 10th grade, and since then, I have volunteered alongside two service-minded friends, Emi and Anjali, to expand the program across the US.
4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”
5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.
Our project inspires kids and adult volunteers to give back to the environmental movement. Here’s how one wildlife refuge--part of our national expansion--got involved (real story)
1. Hurricane Harvey demolished the Visitor Center of XY National Wildlife Refuge. In the wake of catastrophe, youth programs have taken a backseat.
2. We step in! We recruited a local volunteer who commits 3-4 hrs/wk to author an activity booklet. She is a recent graduate excited to make a difference.
3. We teach her the skills she needs to write environmental curriculum for the first time. She workshops her activities with volunteers nationwide via conference call. Artists donate time to design the booklet and badge.
4. Program finished. Through hands-on environmental science activities and habitat hikes, kids who would not otherwise visit learn what makes XY refuge special and important (2020).
6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?
Ours is the first and only that connects National Wildlife Refuges with Jr. Ranger programs. It rewards equally those families who visit many sites and those who visit their local refuge regularly. And while other Jr. Ranger programs require families to purchase badges, ours are free. Our philosophy is that everyone can contribute to the environmental movement regardless of background. Our team’s skill-sets range from environ. science and journalism, to CS and graphic design. Some have no previous environmental experience at all! We are the only Jr. Ranger program led by youth, for youth.
7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?
Through Junior Wildlife Ranger, 10,000 children have had the opportunity to learn about environmental science and the National Wildlife Refuge System. Our project spans more than five states, including the towns of Alviso, CA; Oakland, CA; Sherman, TX; Roswell, NM; and Southern Nevada, with new locations in MA, AZ, MY, and VA in 2020. Every member of our team volunteers their time to run the program. Our 3-person youth leadership team mentors 10-12 volunteers each semester. We represent 7 states, and we are a majority-led female team.
The results are powerful. After leading a Jr. Ranger walk, one 8-year old asked me how she could return to volunteer at the refuge. A 12-year-old wondered how she could conduct research on-site! One of our volunteers says, “It means so much to give back. Any idea we...bring to the table is nurtured.”
8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?
Our ultimate vision is to expand to all 560 National Wildlife Refuges. In the next year: (1) Launch the Stewardship Badge to recognize kids ages 7-12 who volunteer; kids will see themselves as the solution to environmental issues. (2) Develop an unprecedented digital badge system to reward families for returning to their local Refuge. Partners: Ohlone Audubon Society and the Harvard Consulting on Business and the Environment.
We also face challenges as we expand--challenges that motivate us to enter your Challenge. How do we plan financially for a national-level project that will not just survive, but expand in the coming years? How can we ensure our organizational structure is robust as the number of participating sites multiplies
9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?
10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?
Donations less than $100
Donations between $100-$1k
Donations between $1k-$5k
Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?
Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani) (9)
Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?
How did you hear about this challenge?
Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka or T-Mobile, who was it?
Susannah Lee, Earth Island Institute