One of the more popular breakout sessions at the 2018 Conservation Conference, Bats, Birds and Owls: Capturing Community Interest Through Species Management Programs, focused on the use of species projects as a pathway for community engagement. Presenters from Freeport-McMoRan and Waste Management shared their stories about using the preservation and management of an iconic local species to create a positive narrative around conservation and industry.
Sean Wenham, Community Development Manager for Freeport-McMoRan, kicked off the session with an introduction to Freeport’s efforts to enhance burrowing owl habitat at its facility in Safford, Arizona. Community outreach and educational events with groups such as Wild at Heart have been integral in this project’s continuing success. Freeport won the 2016 WHC Avian Project Award for these efforts and continues to work closely with its partners to involve the community in learning about and creating habitat for this species.
Sean’s colleagues Emily Muteb, Development Manager, and Leah Sunna, Environmental Scientist, at Freeport’s Morenci Mine, also located in Arizona, discussed how their facility protects and monitors bats in the Eagle Creek Bat Cave and engages local schools in education about bats. This cave is an important maternity colony for over 1.8 million Mexican free-tailed bats.
Chelsea Adams, Assistant Principal for the Morenci Unified School District, also joined in the discussion, providing a school administrator’s perspective of these outreach events. Chelsea explained how companies and schools can most effectively work together to provide an engaging educational experience that meets both the company’s goals and the school’s academic standards, noting the importance of identifying your goals, planning and preparation, and allowing cross-pollination of concepts that can complement the learning experience. She also described how Freeport uses bat and bee mascots to ignite kids’ imaginations and get them excited about native species; this same bee mascot later surprised Conference attendees with an appearance at the Dinner and Awards Presentation.
Adriene Fors finished off the session by discussing the American kestrel banding project at Waste Management’s Grand Central Landfill in Pennsylvania. Bird banding is a valuable tool that allows you to track changes in bird populations and behavior/movement patterns, and is a fantastic way to engage the community. Adriene described how the facility built community interest in the project over time, using tools like social media and inviting the community to bird banding events.