Raise awareness that we are facing a wildlife crisis with many species at risk, and the need for immediate action to prevent wildlife from becoming endangered.
Americans from all walks of life value wildlife and in general support its conservation. This is true in rural, urban, and suburban communities. Valuing wildlife crosses many divides in America—geography, politics, race, ethnicity, and more. A long polling record is evidence of this support. In fact, a June 2017 poll of hunters and anglers from the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership showed strong support for conservation across party lines. A 2015 poll of registered voters across a wide spectrum of the public found a whopping 90 percent support the Endangered Species Act. However, despite hundreds if not thousands of species of wildlife and plants in steep decline, most people have little awareness of the crisis or the need to take action now before they become endangered. They also lack understanding of the role of the state fish and wildlife agency to protect, conserve and restore wildlife and their habitat. Meanwhile, fewer Americans spend time in nature. The challenge is to engage, inform, and inspire groups and individuals to make strengthening state fish and wildlife agencies a high priority. We must communicate the urgent wildlife crisis and reach a diverse constituency with relevant messages.
While polling shows biologists are especially trusted sources of information, government agencies are often not fully equipped to communicate with a broad public. Conservation organizations often are highly experienced at compelling messaging, including social media, have the freedom to communicate the needs of an agency, and frequently work with the state’s media. The agency’s State Wildlife Action Plan provides detailed information on the needs in every state. If a state coalition can work together to use this information and elevate the crisis, the stage will be set for a ballot or legislative funding campaign, broadening agency authority, or other conservation needs
Why the Crisis is Often Overlooked
One reason why many Americans overlook the wildlife crisis may lie in seeing high numbers of common wildlife, like white-tailed deer and wild turkeys. Most do not know that the two game species once teetered on the brink more than 100 years ago. State fish and wildlife agencies played a key role in their restoration, with support and funding from hunters and anglers. Their recovery today is no accident. Meanwhile, Americans may view more news about the plight of Amazonian or African wildlife than the alarming decline of many songbirds right out their doors. Overall, Americans are less connected with nature and may have no idea what is happening with wildlife unless we tell them.
Recent news attention on the loss of birds and pollinators demonstrates the power of media to alert the public. Monarch butterflies have become a rallying species for people to take action, including the Mayors Monarch Pledge. This success story of elevating a species in trouble demonstrates what’s possible for songbirds, amphibians, bats, bees, shorebirds and other wildlife and plants in trouble. In fact, the Monarch butterfly is an excellent ambassador for any campaign.
When taking actions to elevate the wildlife crisis, keep in mind the importance of targeting two distinct audiences: 1) Influential leaders such as business leaders, state legislators, governors, and members of congress; and 2) General public/voters to help set the stage for any public funding campaign.
Explore the four sections below–the first focused on getting the story out, the second on field trips, the third on press events, and the fourth on presentations. At the end, find more useful background, case studies, and materials.
1. Get the story out on America’s declining wildlife—and the need to take action.
Communicate via newsletter articles, op-eds, blogs, letters to the editor, public news stories, and social media to make two points — there is a real problem and a real solution to the crisis. When we invest, we succeed, and therefore, we have hope for the future. Use case studies to illustrate success. This toolkit contains links to newsletter articles, op-eds, blogs, letters to the editor, magazine articles, news stories and other examples. Explore National Wildlife Federation’s guide to online and social media and overview of working with the media.
Use Fast Facts as a simple way to present the information. For details, access Reversing America’s Wildlife Crisis.
Tell the story so people will care
In all forms of media, tell the story so people will care. Depict the wildlife crisis in your state. Direct attention to your state’s Wildlife Action Plan, the proactive blueprint to addressing the crisis. Use the plan to demonstrate that we have a solution ready that only requires support and funding. Give people hope and tangible actions to make a difference. If needed, create your own materials or encourage your agency to write short wildlife and habitat fact sheets that highlight the crisis and actions succinctly. Broader messaging about clean water and air is very effective and should be integrated into any communications plan.
America’s Wildlife Crisis:
|Birds||One third of bird species in United States & Canada are in need of urgent conservation action.|
|Fish||More than 40 percent of freshwater fish species are at risk in North America|
|Amphibians||Approximately 42 percent of amphibian species (frogs, toads, and salamanders) are threatened or declining in the United States.|
|Reptiles||In the United States, 33 percent of turtles are threatened, and 5 percent of other reptiles are threatened.|
|Butterflies||Of the roughly 800 butterfly species in the United States, 17 percent are known to be at risk of extinction—but that’s likely just the tip of the iceberg since there isn’t enough information on many native butterfly species. Monarchs were recorded as low as 90 percent decline!|
|Bumblebees||More than one-quarter of North American bumblebee species are facing some degree of extinction risk.|
|Bats||An estimated 18 percent of bat species are at risk of extinction, with an additional 13 percent potentially at risk.|
|Freshwater Mussels||Overall, 70 percent of freshwater mussels in North America are already extinct or imperiled.|
USE YOUR STATE WIDLIFE ACTION PLAN AND ASSOCIATED EFFECTIVE MESSAGING
Your State Wildlife Action Plan contains significant information on wildlife and plants at-risk and proactive actions to prevent wildlife from becoming endangered. It’s a great resource, and unfortunately largely overlooked. The plans can appear daunting, yet some agencies have produced excellent webpages and fact sheets that highlight wildlife of greatest conservation need. If your state lacks easy to access information to communicate with the public, encourage your state wildlife agency to highlight compelling wildlife, habitat, and actions from their plans into simple digestible information.
When the plans were first created and ready to be released, significant message testing was undertaken including focus groups, telephone surveys of voters, and online polls aimed at conservationists. The results and messaging recommendations are still relevant today and should be considered as you talk about your state’s Wildlife Action Plan.
State Wildlife Agency websites that lay out the wildlife crisis and invite the public in:
|Hawaii: Compelling information — “More than half of native habitat have been lost, and the introduction of non-native plants, animals, and diseases constitutes an ongoing threat to native animals and the very existence of entire species.”|
|Massachusetts: Points to how many species right up top in a large heading—”The Massachusetts State Wildlife Action Plan, as required by Congress, presents the 570 Species of Greatest Conservation Need in the Commonwealth, the 24 types of habitat that support these species, and the actions necessary to conserve them.”|
|Pennsylvania: Lists the groups of species of greatest conservation need on its home page and has a welcoming tone and includes an inspiring quote: “In the end, the 2015-2025 State Wildlife Action Plan is a declaration — an affirmation that each of these wild creatures is an important part of a vivid, vibrant Penn’s Woods, and the birthright of every Pennsylvanian.” from the PA Wildlife Action Plan Foreword|
|Oregon: Oregon Conservation Strategy: A Blueprint for Success website highlights species, habitats, and actions that include outreach. The full color photos and easy online access are an excellent example, by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.|
Using wildlife as their own ambassadors
Identify wildlife ambassador species with wide appeal and tell the story of how one creature is in trouble and needs our help, including success stories for hope. Your state may already have excellent fact sheets ready to use, like Connecticut’s on the wood turtle. National Wildlife Federation’s blog often has great examples too. Monarch Butterflies, so well known, are indeed a true wildlife ambassador reaching a variety of constituents and the public-at-large.
Employ the power of social media
Reach out to people of all ages in the media they like. Make use of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, E-News, Blogs, and other sources with appeal to certain demographics and levels of engagement. Use social media wisely for best benefits. For instance, currently Snapchat is the most popular social media platform for teens through 34-year-olds, but drops off sharply for older users. Some examples are provided here. Can your coalition’s social media savvy members create a campaign for five wildlife species in crisis in your state? Enlist social media influence to reach many more people than your own following.
Celebrate wildlife agency heroes and heroines
Elevate the importance of the wildlife crisis and the role of the wildlife agency in solving the crisis. By doing both, you will increase support for your state wildlife agency to add needed expertise and capacity. Showcase agency biologists and others who are in the field making a difference for wildlife. Share on social media. Giving conservation awards to staff within the agency can lead to great media coverage. Here’s an example from Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries: “LDFW Botanist Chris Reid’s Work to Save Louisiana’s Remaining Coastal Prairie Recognized by Louisiana Wildlife Federation.”
Broader Conservation Messaging
The Nature Conservancy has repeatedly commissioned surveys to find out the best language and messaging to build support for conservation. These include:
- Talk about safety and health first—shifting conversation from conservation as nice to have to need to have. Stress how conserving land, water, and wildlife protects our own health. Make the connection to how we are safer from floods or drought, for example, when we care for and restore watersheds for wildlife and people.
- Connect to clean water, and especially conserving drinking water.
- Stress the importance of protecting natural areas as a way to help children get outdoors.
“Outdoor recreation is a part of our way of life—from hunters and fishermen to young children who play in parks. Protecting our natural areas will ensure that we still have places to hike, bike, boat, fish, hunt, see wildlife, or just enjoy the peace and quiet of nature.”Sample message that polls well (from TNC survey 2012).
Customize your messages
You should customize messages to be relevant to different influential people in your state, as well as conservation groups, businesses, and outdoor recreation groups. Articulate why they should care and how their activity will be impacted by inaction.
EXAMPLE: Invasive species outcompete native wildlife and ruin your favorite hikes.Here’s a relevant message from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources: “Hunters, hikers and birdwatchers can find that they are no longer able to walk in their favorite natural areas. Thorny multiflora rose, dense stands of buckthorn and other invaders fill in the understory of once open forests and grasslands. As the habitat is modified by such invasive plant species, the wildlife that depends on native species decline as well.
Look for news hooks and multiple media outlets
Share your message in multiple ways to access different age groups and interests. Insert the issue into existing forums and materials. Always look for relevant news hooks and timely events that provide a touchstone for telling the story. For example, every December or early January, the media covers Christmas Bird Counts. Plan ahead to engage reporters to link the count to declining birds and the importance of citizen science. For example, the counts show serious declines of the American kestrel, bobwhite quail, and loggerhead shrike.
Other wildlife related dates for news opportunities specific to your state include Earth Day (April), International Migratory Bird Day and/or Gardening for Wildlife Month (May), Endangered Species Day (May), and National Hunting and Fishing Day (September).
New reports on the wildlife crisis, changing wildlife participation, or progress in the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act offer a natural hook for your state. Rare bird sightings garner media attention, too, and offer an excellent chance to be quoted on both the rare bird and efforts to reverse the wildlife crisis.
Show the crisis has a solution
Point out that success is possible against improbable odds, using examples with both historic recovery stories, like the wild turkey and more recent successes, like the return of trumpeter swans to Minnesota—an effort made possible by the state’s wildlife diversity program.
Since the inception of the federal State Wildlife Grants program in 2000, many state agencies have increased efforts to prevent wildlife from becoming endangered and have inspiring stories to share. The return of our nation’s symbol, the bald eagle, is an inspiring story for states to tell the story of their role in recovery of a once endangered bird.
Tell the story of a wildlife species where preventative action resulted in not having to list it as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (see New England Cottontail Rabbit story). Celebrate a win where the investment or resources turned around a dire situation. Highlight the state wildlife agency role in the success, including their expertise and actual on-the-ground actions.
Hold up partners
Using your State Wildlife Action Plan as one resource and branching out to find others, look for wildlife success examples that involve partners. Why? With a task this daunting, we need all the partners we can get for success. No one agency or group can succeed alone. Partnerships also build good will and are cost-effective.
You might showcase a conservation group that helped band birds or remove invasive plants. Elevate a private landowner who received technical advice based on new research that led to new best management practices. Profile a member of the business community that avoided siting a project in an area important for wildlife.
2. Host an awe-inspiring wildlife experience for Influentials and Media
One of the best ways to tell the story of proactive conservation to influential leaders (state legislators, your governor, congressional representatives, and businesses) and the press is to organize and host a field trip. Showcase a wildlife project on behalf of a declining species that need our attention. By partnering with your state wildlife agency, you can provide people with a close-up awe-inspiring and even magical experience.
With your help as an NGO, your state wildlife agency can create an event that allows people to come into close contact with wildlife in a way they wouldn’t otherwise. For example, they might organize a trip for influentials to a site where migrating songbirds or shorebirds are caught in nets, weighed, measured, banded, and released.
NGOs can take care of the invitations, logistics to get people to the site, talk about the importance of the agency and need for action, with the agency playing the key role of being the biologists in action, showcasing their expertise with wildlife.and even magical experience.
Many successful field trips were organized in several states for staff with Members of Congress, taking them to witness concentrations of migrating shorebirds in one case, and in another, a memorable visit to a hacking (transitioning birds back to the wild) tower for Peregrine Falcons. The influentials got to hold the falcon chick for just one life-changing second—enough for them to become ardent supporters of funding for state wildlife agencies.
Since the inception of the federal State Wildlife Grants program in 2000, many state agencies have increased efforts to prevent wildlife from becoming endangered and have inspiring stories to share. The Bald Eagle is now officially no longer endangered, each state has a success story to share in the restoration of our nation’s symbol.
Fisher in snow at Mount Rainier National Park
Conservation Northwest, founded in 1989 “to protect, connect, and restore wildlands and wildlife from the Washington Coast to the British Columbia Rockies” has a legacy of leading successful campaigns through coalition building with an emphasis on collaboration. The group leads or helps a range of coalitions based on a principle of working together to build a “stronger, wilder future for the Great Northwest!” This strategy of collaboration and coalition building, including a 2018 success story, played a key role in helping the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife restore vanishing fishers to forests. This great story generated excellent media coverage.
3. Organize press events around coalition, wildlife or legislative champions, or newsworthy actions
When you hit a newsworthy milestone, issue a press release or take it to the next level. Hosting a press event requires more planning and can yield excellent coverage. Press events, like field trips, can be held in a dramatic setting (as long as they are within easy reach of the media!) and combined with a breathtaking release of an injured eagle or some other bird or animal (like a sea turtle) that draws reporters. As always, make the highest use possible of your wildlife ambassadors and the people working to conserve them!
A good example is the 2016 release of New England Cottontail rabbits back into the wild that attracted an AP News Story and drew attention[NE1] to the plight of this species and hope for its recovery.
Zoos, aquariums, and botanical gardens offer another way to provide a photo-op with wildlife, especially if there isn’t a readily available wildlife experience. A central location makes it easier for press to attend.
Forming a coalition of diverse groups (the unlikely or unusual allies’ angle) dedicated to solving the wildlife crisis is a potential milestone, with opportunities for representatives to be together on a panel addressing the media and taking questions.
A press event centered on a wildlife champion can honor an outstanding volunteer, a member of your coalition, or an agency staff person. The latter is a chance to hold up and shine a light on the unsung heroes and heroines in our state fish and wildlife agency. Here’s an example—a story about Carroll Henderson, Minnesota DNR.
You can tie your press event on a wildlife champion to a larger commemorative month, like Women’s History Month. NWF gives out awards to women wildlife champions during this month. While a news tip to a reporter or press release might be all you need to highlight a champion, awards are often excellent press events. For the mechanics of holding a press event, see National Wildlife Federation’s Guide to Media.
4. Give presentations at regular meetings of conservation groups and partners
Create a show to take on the road that your coalition members can present at meetings. All you need is a PowerPoint and a fact sheet. You might start with these sample PowerPoints. Show rather than tell people about the wildlife crisis in your state, choosing charismatic wildlife species as ambassadors. Make sure it’s clear what you are asking people to do—whether it’s joining the coalition, writing letters to the editor, supporting legislation, or attending wildlife commission meetings on key topics. You are bringing the issue right to the target audience rather than just hoping they will read an article. Attendees are the most interested or active members of a group so more likely to actually take action on your behalf. Be sure to send around a sign-up sheet so you can add their names to your action alert lists!
- Elevate the Wildlife Crisis Worksheet
- Guide to online tools and social media
- Overview to working with the media (interviewing, contact lists, placing op-eds, etc.)
- Talking points on preventing wildlife from becoming endangered
- Example op-ed, newsletter article on wildlife funding
- Example Social Media
- Field trip examples
- Conservation Language Tips – Memo, Framing Nature Toolkit
- Power Point
- State Wildlife Action Plans Messaging
- Crisis Reports and Articles
- Wildlife Calendar
Header photo credit: Jennifer Strom