By Audrey Matusich
The month of April comes with many celebrations: Spring is in full bloom, chocolate bunnies and colorful eggs fill every grocery store, and here at The Watershed Project, we gear up for service projects outdoors for Earth Day. Earth Day began in 1970, as people’s concerns for the environment grew in the wake of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Starting on college campuses as a teach-in, this movement to “provide a voice to this emerging environmental consciousness, and [put] environmental concerns on the front page” eventually evolved into an annual global event that puts the environment front of mind every April 22nd (https://www.earthday.org/history/).
As Earth Day approaches, I found myself taking a hike near a local creek, trying to decide which marvelous plant or animal to highlight for this month’s “What’s in your Watershed?” segment. As I approached the creek to take a look, I discovered what I wanted to write about staring back…me! Looking at my reflection, I realized people are as much a part of a watershed as any other plant or animal is. However, far too often people see themselves as visitors of a natural habitat as opposed to a key member. I have grown up in awe of the natural world, never missing a chance to interact with animals, swim in the ocean, or climb a tree. In love with the environment, I pursued a degree in wildlife biology, followed by marine biology in graduate school. Despite my passion for the environment and determination to protect it, I have fallen into the same trap of considering myself separate from nature.
I write this article to not only remind myself, but also remind others that we play an important role in our local watershed. We often focus on how people’s presence has detrimentally impacted the environment, but people may also play a positive role as a “top predator” in many ecosystems. Being a beneficial member of our watershed begins with shifting our mindset from a spectator or owner of nature to a critical piece of the natural world. And what better way to begin this mindset shift than with children.
At The Watershed Project, I have the privilege of working with children everyday and exploring local watersheds with them. The children I work with have such a capacity for respect and compassion for their watershed, determined to become “water protectors.” Our field trips out to Wildcat Canyon Regional Park serve as a reminder of a local watershed that each of these children are a part. They get the chance to develop a positive relationship with the environment, making connections with different components of an ecosystem and determining their own important role. From monitoring the health of a creek to developing strategies to combat climate change, children are stepping up to protect the watersheds that they are a part of.
On Earth Day, I encourage all of us to once again become a part of nature, following the footsteps of children who have already taken that first step. Reteach yourself how to “play” in the forest or go exploring at the creek. Be respectful of nature and remember that people rely on healthy watersheds as much as healthy watersheds depend on people.
About Us: The History of Earth Day. Earth Day. https://www.earthday.org/history/