By Josh Reiss
On Wednesday, Aug. 12, the Wolf Conservation Center of South Salem held its third annual walk to protect America’s Wild Heritage, an event aimed at raising awareness for all endangered wildlife. The event included speeches, a walk with educational workshops, raffled prizes and a visit from Atka the wolf.
The sunny event started with speeches from Executive Director Maggie Howell, John Jay’s own eighth grader Ashley Stagnari, and Sen. Terrence Murphy’s director of community affairs, T.J. McCormick. Stagnari started her own petition for wolf protection in Canada’s British Columbia in March. Murphy officially recognized Craighead as an esteemed citizen of New York and gave her the day, Aug. 12, to be recognized. Some excited guests included birthday boy, nine-year-old David Ross, who came with his parents from Brooklyn, and seven-year-old sisters Alexandra and Catherine Martin from Darien, Conn. ,who said, “We wanna see Atka again ’cause we haven’t seen him in a long time.”
Along with many families and individuals, the Westchester County Parks Ecology Program was there with its camp kids.
The walk included educational workshops where volunteers gave lessons about the environment differences between crocodiles and alligators and the different types of bird eggs. Each station had a form of participation, such as a paper where children made eco-promises and signed their names.
The event ended with the raffling of prizes such as wolf T-shirts and picture books, and an appearance by wolf-ambassador Atka, who led everyone in a group howl.
According to Howell, “Our nation’s future relies on a well-educated public to be wise stewards of the very environment that sustains us and future generations.” Howell continued, “Ultimately, the collective wisdom of our citizens will be the most compelling and most successful strategy for preserving our wildlife and the wild lands that sustain them.”
This year’s event is dedicated to Westchester’s own Jean Craighead George in celebration of her voice for wildlife. Through her books, George opened doors to understanding the plight of endangered species and the importance of childhood interest in the wild. As Howell says, “A new generation of environmental stewards whose energy and action can collectively become the critical catalyst needed to protect our nation’s most important environmental law — the Endangered Species Act (ESA) — and all the imperiled species it helps to conserve.”
The event, first held in 2013 as one of the hundreds around the country, was scheduled as part of the National Day of Action to Support Wolf Recovery. These events were in response to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s proposal to remove federal protection for nearly all gray wolves nationwide aside from the Mexican grey wolf. This proposal would remove these animals from the endangered species list. Aug. 14 was picked as a day of action for the wolves because the public would still have time to contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife about the delisting proposal before the then September deadline. After the first event more than one million comments were received.
WCC founder Hélène Grimaud started the Wolf Conservation Center in 1996 with three ambassador wolves, Apache, Lukas, and Kaila. Along with co-founder J. Henry Fair, Grimaud was the teacher, the staff, the scheduler, etc. Then, visitors heard about the WCC through word of mouth, and were primarily from town or the surrounding Westchester communities, and would call or email to schedule an informal visit. Today the WCC’s mission is to promote wolf conservation by teaching about wolves, their relationship to the environment, and the human role in protecting their future.