By Red Wolf Ambassador, Greg McNamara
There is a place for everyone in conservation. I’m not a biologist or lawyer or politician. In many ways, I’m an average citizen. But I am also someone who cares about something endangered and found a way to turn my passion into action. I hope my experience will inspire you to find your passion and turn it into action for what you love.
The first time I saw a wolf, I was awe struck. I was 8 or 9 years old, and my family was living in a small town in Northeast Ohio when my mom took me to see a wolf the Nature Company store brought in for kids to see and learn about. The encounter sparked my love for wolves.
Fast-forward to after college where I’m now living in the heart of red wolf recovery territory: North Carolina. The local news around these critically endangered animals picked up as they became increasingly politicized in 2016 and 2017. And I found myself once again researching the history and plight of red wolves – but this time with the mindset and ability to do something to help shape the debate.
While red wolves are a hot topic here locally, I was, and still am, shocked at how little people know or have heard about them and their plight. I wanted to do more than write to my representatives and donate to the cause. I felt I could help get the word out in Charlotte and hopefully this major North Carolina city could drive more awareness.
At this point, I had donated to Defenders of Wildlife but hadn’t spoken with anyone on the organization’s Southeast regional team. I did know Defenders’ representatives Ben Prater and Christian Hunt’s, names, however, so, when I reached out to the local NPR station in 2018, I recommended they contact them to be interviewed about red wolves on Charlotte Talks. Not until years later did I learn it was my note to NPR that got Defenders and Christian on the show.
Then in 2021, I joined a couple of Defenders’ Lunch and Learn webinars and began emailing with their staff members Tracy Davids and Heather Clarkson. Those email conversations turned into weekly meetings in 2022. We discussed the challenges within the landscape, what Defenders and the other conservation organizations needed and what locals were saying about red wolf recovery. Between Defenders, another volunteer and me, our sessions were incredibly creative and focused on how we could spread awareness, education, understanding and what coexistence could look like. I became more involved with developing surveys for locals and figuring out how Defenders could use the data to build a community willing and able to coexist with the reintroduced red wolves. We also collaborated on the contents of non-lethal conflict management toolkits, on newly refreshed and installed billboards on the way to the recovery area, contributed to awareness through Defenders blog posts, provided input to the creation of a coexistence website, and participated in the 2022 year-in-review Red Wolf Lunch and Learn… talk about coming full circle!
The height of my contributions was spearheading the fundraising event Defenders put on in May of this year in Charlotte, NC to highlight the red wolf for Endangered Species Day. As someone who is not an event planner, I can confirm there is a lot that goes into putting these gatherings together. But the outcome was well worth it. The money we raised will go back into the community in the form of non-lethal conflict management toolkits. And the greatest win in my eyes was seeing families at the event that left educated and excited. I’ve heard from several friends and attendees that this event – the “woof party” as one three-year-old put it – was all their kids could talk about. They want to get involved more. We ignited a spark in the next generation of conservationists – just like my first wolf experience had ignited one in me all those years ago.
The community of volunteers for red wolf recovery is growing. I’ve met many amazing people along my journey and many who I see as lifelong friends. And my time as a Red Wolf Ambassador is far from over. This species is finally on an upswing but there’s still so much work to do!
For anyone with a passion for wildlife or a specific animal or habitat, I encourage you to explore it more. Reach out to the organizations involved and allow someone to help you “scratch your itch.” Everyone can bring something to the table. It’s just a matter of persistence and willingness to find out what you can do.
Keep an eye out for Defenders next big red wolf event in North Carolina this October!