ExxonMobil | When Girl Scouts and Avian Projects Join Forces, Everyone Wins

The wildlife team at ExxonMobil’s Joliet Refinery had a request: Though they had been diligently maintaining and monitoring nesting structures to support native ducks at the Channahon, Illinois, site since 2015, pandemic-related stressors in 2021 created heavier work hours than usual. With multiple active conservation projects taking place across the site’s 146 acres, members of the wildlife team needed assistance monitoring the bird boxes.  

Meanwhile, a local Girl Scout troop was searching for a way to get involved in wildlife projects. Specifically, they were seeking outdoor activities that could help their members achieve a citizen/community science badge. As luck would have it, Mechanical Availability Lead and member of the bird team at Joliet Refinery Kate Shafer also happened to be the leader of the Girl Scout troop in question — and she began to coordinate a solution that would meet both of these needs.  

“During the pandemic, our Girl Scouts were looking for a program outside,” said Shafer, “and taking over monitoring of the birds and ducks was the perfect fit.” To meet the requirements of the Junior Citizen Scientist Journey badge, the Girl Scouts had to conduct research related to citizen/community science initiatives, so engaging the efforts of the Girl Scout troop in monitoring at Joliet Refinery ensured reciprocal benefits for both organizations. 

To gain some background information on the project, the Girl Scouts attended a learning session before they began monitoring. ExxonMobil staff educated the youth on the differences between habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation, and through this session, the Scouts learned why the duck boxes had been installed on-site and the importance of these supplemental nesting resources. 

The Girl Scouts were then apprised of Joliet’s monitoring protocol and provided the appropriate resources — from cameras and selfie sticks to gloves and bug spray — to conduct routine monitoring during the nesting season. One of the challenges of the project was accommodating the monitoring sessions in all parties’ busy schedules. “We’ve worked to identify smaller time increment volunteer opportunities,” Shafer said. While time was of the essence, it was also important to Joliet that the Girl Scouts have the opportunity to learn. “We know just to monitor the ducks and birds, an adult could do it faster — but we see the value of engaging the community to share our property.” 

After the monitoring sessions were complete, the Girl Scouts analyzed the data, hypothesizing about why some boxes were more successful than others. “Making data-based decisions is fundamental to STEM,” explained Shafer. “Our Girl Scouts collected data on nesting, then used that data to drive locations of additional boxes.” Based on monitoring data from the Girl Scouts, Joliet installed four additional wooden boxes and redistributed the PVC boxes so that there was only one box per pole. The troop even had the opportunity to construct several new boxes themselves. 

Through this collaboration, both the Girl Scouts and the Joliet wildlife team benefited. The monitoring opportunity met a community need in the form of hands-on STEM education (not to mention the prospect of earning a Girl Scout badge), while the data collected by the Girl Scouts helped to better inform ExxonMobil’s conservation efforts. For programs implementing a youth engagement component, Shafer recommends developing programs that are modeled after existing requirements, such as Girl Scout badges or Cub Scout adventures. “There are always interested kids in these programs, and it is less work for employees to develop and lead,” she said. “Many Scout leaders are looking for wildlife-related programming and would welcome an organization offering the activity.” 

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Quick Facts

Site Name:Joliet Refinery
Category:Member Spotlight
Site Location:Channahon, Illinois
Partners:Four Rivers - Forest Preserve District of Will County, Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago Northwest Indiana, Huff & Huff
Project Types:Avian, Awareness and Engagement, Bats, Grasslands, Wetlands and Water Bodies
Certification Since:2016
Certification Level:Gold Certified
WHC Index Link:Learn more about this program
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