Wildlife Outreach Program
By Mary Gannon, Wildlife Outreach Coordinator, RI DEM
Steel gray clouds race across the January sky, and the wind whips sea foam up into the air from where the icy waves pound the rocky coast. Harlequin, eider, and an enormous raft of black and surf scoter ride the treacherous surf with ease. The ducks dive beneath the waves in search of aquatic plants and shellfish, completely unperturbed by the wind and cold.
The sun sets, and the gray, bare trees cast long shadows over the ground. The stillness of the dim, March evening is suddenly punctuated with the shrill calls of spring peepers and subtler clucks of wood frogs. A four-toed salamander creeps underneath a log, and a toad hops across the dirt path. Coyotes sing together in the distance, adding their voices to the spring chorus.
April dusk falls. A tiny, rapidly twittering silhouette rockets across the soft blues and purples of the evening sky. It descends, uttering a more syncopated twitter, and then, silence. From all directions, the shrubs and young trees begin to emit strange sounds. “Peent!...Peent!” After a moment of these cryptic announcements, the timberdoodle once again begins his joyful sky dance.
Morning sunlight lances through fresh leaves, still supple and fuzzy in the May warmth. The woods are alive with birdsong. “Sweet-sweet-sweet, I’m so sweet!...Tea-kettle-tea-kettle-tea-kettle!...Tea-cher, tea-CHER, TEA-CHER!” How many singers are there? Occasionally, bright-feathered gems flit through the foliage, busy with the tasks of spring.
The warmth of the July day lingers as the sun sets. Moths and mosquitoes float on the humid air, and a heron glides across the sky to its nighttime roost. With quiet squeaks, the little hunters emerge, fluttering from the old rooftop one by one. The bats turn somersaults and change direction on a dime overhead, in search of dinner.
You don’t have to go far or watch a nature documentary to experience any of these tranquil scenes. All you have to do is attend one of our family-friendly Wildlife Outreach Programs! In the age of smartphones, viral videos, and social media influencers, scenes like these are often forgotten or completely unknown to the public. The goal of the Wildlife Outreach Program is to connect Rhode Islanders of all ages to our state’s wildlife and spread awareness of the conservation work being done right here in RI. Much of the wildlife conservation work conducted by RI DFW, and corresponding outreach, is funded through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration (WSFR) Program. The WSFR Program generates conservation funding through hunting and trapping license receipts, and a federal excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment. Thank you to all of our hunters and trappers for responsibly supporting wildlife management and conservation here in Rhode Island!
The Wildlife Outreach Program started in 2017, with one newly-hired staff member (yours truly) and a handful of natural artifacts, in a cabin office at the Great Swamp Field Headquarters. I began by visiting classrooms, and then branched out to present public programs at libraries, senior centers, farmers markets, and eventually at State Parks and Management Areas. Some of my favorite programs to date have been our annual, all-season outdoor programs, such as Come Birding with Me, Vernal Pool Night, Sky Dance Night, and Summer Bat Night. I highly encourage hunters to attend these field programs, as it’s so rewarding to learn about the conservation work being done with your support. You’ll also deepen your knowledge of RI’s wildlife species, which will only further enrich your time spent in your tree stand, blind, or on the trail!
The program has grown in leaps and bounds since then. The cabin office now has a collection of educational tools and artifacts to use for our classroom programs. Our kids’ magazine, Wild Rhode Island Explorer is consistently gaining new subscribers and being circulated across the state in schools and libraries. RI DFW now has a strong Instagram following, in addition to our Facebook page. In 2019, RI DFW hired Gabrielle DeMeillon to assist with both the Wildlife Outreach and Volunteer Programs. Together, we’ve been able to develop the Rhody Critter Kit program, which provides educators the opportunity to borrow five Rhode Island wildlife-themed curriculum kits to use in their classrooms for free. Three of the kits focus on some of our most requested topics: birds, bats, and reptiles/amphibians. Two additional kits focus on habitat management in RI and the role of hunting and trapping in modern wildlife conservation and management. All kits include information about WSFR-funded work in RI, in order to raise awareness of this incredible program that has benefited our state’s wildlife for over 80 years. We plan to launch the kits in the 2020-2021 academic school year.
Recently, we’ve been producing fun, educational videos on RI wildlife conservation. Visit the RIDEM’s YouTube channel to check out Gabby’s Creature Crafts series for kids, our virtual field trips with biologists, and informative (and occasionally humorous) conservation-themed shorts. Unfortunately, our 2020 activities were heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we have been using this time to do some behind-the-scenes work on program and outreach resource development. Stay tuned! We are incredibly grateful for the enthusiasm and support in response to our outreach programs, and look forward to what the future holds.
To stay up to date on upcoming programs, visit www.dem.ri.gov/wildlifeoutreach.