September 1, 2020

For years, getting involved with Defenders of Wildlife has been a family effort. My mother and my wife Amy have donated to Defenders of Wildlife, as they are especially interested in polar bears and gray wolves (even symbolically adopting one!) and my mom always passed Defenders membership mail to me.  Before reading the latest updates, something clicked: I had the time and energy to do more and help the cause, so why wasn’t I? 

The next day, I searched Defenders’ website to learn what Amy and I could do locally as volunteers here in the Triangle area of North Carolina. As we wanted to make an impact and dedicate some of our time and effort to one of their many great causes, I emailed the Southeast office in Asheville, North Carolina and within a couple of weeks we had our first assignment: developing a wildlife educational presentation for their Wildlife Workshops & Walkabouts program!

A Red-cockaded woodpecker flies from its natural nest cavity on the Francis Marion National Forest in September, 2009.
Martjan Lammertink/USFS

The first thing we realized in working with Defenders was that are so many at-risk and threatened species. Amy and I worked to find which of these species are local to our area, and we quickly narrowed it to the red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW). Through our research, we were comforted to learn of RCW conservation efforts already underway, such as the Long Leaf Pine Initiative, which helps protect important habitat. Long leaf pine forests specifically are the RCW’s preferred habitat, and the health of these trees is, therefore, critical to the species’ survival. It was great to learn that Defenders, as a national organization, is protecting and conserving wildlife right in my backyard, and I was excited to join the fight!

red-cockaded woodpecker habitat on the Oconee National Forest

One of the most interesting things we learned during this project was that not only are RCWs prey for the likes rat snakes, but their nests are constantly at risk of being rendered useless by other larger woodpeckers! In addition to RCWs having to endure a sharp decline in suitable habitat; they must actively compete with other woodpecker species in order to survive. 

Red-cockaded woodpecker
Andy Wraithmell

Another upside of working on this project was learning more about PowerPoint than we ever expected - from slide-to-slide recording to downloading a font that was not originally part of the application!  Finally, we learned just how helpful and understanding Defenders’ Southeast team can be! It was a great learning experience. Thanks to Tracy, Heather and Maddy for all their help and guidance with the finished product. From my family to yours, I hope you enjoy the presentation and learn a little something, about RCWs, too.



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