An unnerving number of superlatives have been used to describe the year 2020, including unprecedented, tragic, and heartbreaking. While these words are strong descriptors for a year filled with pandemic deaths, social upheaval and mounting challenges facing wildlife across the globe, as I reflect on the year that has past – a different word comes to mind. Hope.
As an environmental educator for nearly 30 years, I have to admit I have sometimes felt like we are fighting a losing battle as wolves and other wildlife continue to face threats from wildland degradation, illegal killing and misinformation campaigns spread through the Internet. What 2020 has taught me though, is that in spite of these challenges, we have reason for optimism.
I witnessed first-hand the resilience of our staff, board and community as we adapted to the wild pitches 2020 threw at us. Can’t do in person programming? Okay – let’s teach thousands of kids online instead. Lost revenue from the Visitor Center being closed for 22 weeks? Our community stepped up during the largest online fundraising campaign in our organization’s history raising over $155,000. Gray wolves dropped from the U.S Endangered Species List? We ramped up our online presence to help people understand how to participate in wolf management planning at the state level and make sure their voices are heard.
Watching our staff work tirelessly to educate people about wolves, even while their own friends and families were going through personal loss due to the pandemic, was breathtakingly inspiring to me.
Another major inspiration for me in 2020 was getting to meet the next generation of wolf stewards. They include Taylor Bland, a new board member for the International Wolf Center, who is a technician for the Yellowstone Wolf Project, and Dr. Tom Gable, who flooded the Internet with revealing stories and videos from his work with wolves and beavers in Voyageurs National Park. It also includes our own new staff up in Ely, Maddy Witt and Abby Keller, who represent the future of our education and wolf care programming. I am convinced that this new generation of wolf biologists, educators and advocates is going to do great things to ensure the survival of wolf populations. So, while 2020 was challenging and yes, unprecedented, it gave me a glimpse into an exciting future for wolves and the International Wolf Center.