By Jeff Corwin
“I’ve always believed we will not protect what we do not love and cannot love what we do not know.”
There’s no doubt about it: Urgent action is needed to protect nature in North America—the amazing creatures, wild places and natural resources that inspire and sustain us—for future generations. Seeing the diversity of people unified over saving wildlife and their habitat—from those fighting on the conservation frontlines to people who donate time and resources to organizations like Defenders of Wildlife—provides me with unending hope. It inspires me to keep going.
I’ve worked with Defenders for 20 years as a member, board member and ambassador for nature. I have partnered with Defenders to amplify the stories of wildlife, the resilience of nature and the urgent help our animals and wildlands so often need. I’ve testified on Capitol Hill with Defenders on everything from species extinction and climate change to imperiled amphibians and the Endangered Species Act. Working with Defenders has provided me the unique privilege of seeing firsthand how this organization affects local and federal policy while also working with diverse communities at the grassroots level throughout our nation to protect and restore wildlife for all.
Trained as a biologist, I’ve also had a long career as a TV presenter and producer of documentaries and other shows advocating for the protection of wildlife and wild places. During this time, I’ve been fortunate to travel the world to bring the planet’s amazing wildlife diversity into people’s living rooms—always with the goal of inspiring viewers to fall in love with the wild. Today, when a young person tells me, “I want to work on wildlife conservation because of the stories you’ve told,” that is the fuel that fires my engine. I couldn’t be happier than when I meet someone who tells me that they became a scientist because of me. It’s even better when someone is inspired to do something in their own community to save an endangered species or a wild place because of the work I do.
I love to hear about people moved to act by something they see going on in their own backyard. Every day, tens of thousands of people volunteer significant amounts of their time, resources and talents to save wildlife. I cherish a career spent working with wildlife rehabilitation centers where passionate wildlife advocates rescue and rehabilitate animals so that they can eventually release them safely back into the wild, to continue their wild journey. For example, where I live in Massachusetts, community volunteers regularly come together to help recover the diamondback terrapin, an incredibly threatened turtle that lives only in saltwater marshes. These volunteers have created a “neighborhood watch” program for the hatchlings, and now residents have taken on the scientific work of helping to monitor individual turtles.
In my home state, Peregrine falcons are now thriving in the middle of Boston Harbor. When I was a child growing up not far from there, peregrines had been completely extirpatred from the area for decades. But today they are thriving because people came together and figured out how to bring them back. And the return of the peregrine is more than just a good thing to do. It plays a larger role for the local environment. They help manage pigeon populations, a species that can challenge us, so people are realizing benefits they hadn’t even considered.
I’ve always believed we will not protect what we do not love and cannot love what we do not know. That’s why I often brought my two daughters, now teenagers, on location with me. But just as rewarding is sharing our American “backyard” with them. I’d like to think that all these experiences have made my daughters well-rounded and helped them to understand both the resiliency and fragility of life on Earth—and why our stewardship and engagement is so important.
I have spent my career encouraging people from all walks of life to be proactive, to get out there and explore nature, so they personally value its importance and become passionate about protecting it. That’s what has inspired my decades of work alongside Defenders of Wildlife. Our planet is in crisis. The wildlife in North America is suffering. But together we can turn that around. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again. Partnering with Defenders of Wildlife, I know we will broaden the constituency of caring about wildlife and the nature around us. Together, we can we ensure the next generation inherits a vibrant, biologically rich and healthy wild nation.