By Andie Conlon
On March 21-23, I was lucky enough to attend the Montana Environmental Education Association Conference in Fairmont Hot Springs. While the conference was short in duration, it certainly did not fall short in content. Arriving early on Thursday morning, I attended a professional development workshop focused on Aquatic Invasive Species, led by Liz Lodman of Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. Not only did the workshop provide incredible hands-on experience with classroom curriculum surrounding AIS, but it even involved a field trip to and tour of the local Anaconda hatchery. Thursday evening also proved to be invigorating as IGNITE sessions, quick 10-minute presentations, were held by organizations like Yellowstone Forever, the Clark Fork Coalition, and the Montana WILD Center. As with most conferences, it is always fulfilling to spend time in a room full of like-minded individuals working toward a common goal. While the presentation topics ranged from aquatic invasives to citizen science, they were strung together by a theme of grassroots conservation movements and the idea that change is created not by professional scientists or policymakers, but by everyday individuals like you and me. This concept has stayed with me and has allowed me to reflect on some of the work I do with the National Wildlife Federation, in particular our Garden for Wildlife program. While I talk to the public all the time about the importance of creating wildlife habitat in urban areas, I often forget to appreciate when an individual truly makes the effort to certify their garden and create a habitat for native species, even if it’s just a small pocket. Taking the time to reflect on this has made me grateful to be part of a community where people not only care, but also put intentional effort into creating positive change. With so much going wrong for our planet, it’s easy to focus on the negatives; it gives me tremendous hope to focus more on the fact that there are people out there – your neighbors, classmates, family, or coworkers – who are fighting back. You just need to remember to notice.