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Investing in the Next Generation of National Park Stewards

Saguaro National Park, Arizona–Anyone who has participated in a BioBlitz has witnessed the thrill of young people being shown the secrets of nature. Scientists take students into the field and show them the hiding places of mammals, insects, and birds, and the amazing properties of plants and fungi. What looks like an empty wilderness quickly becomes a world teeming with species of every kind. The linkages between species and ultimately our own deep connections with the entire web of life are unveiled.

Lois Morrison serves as executive director of the Harold M. and Adeline S. Morrison Family Foundation, a foundation committed to working in partnership with others to advance economic and ecological health through environmental education programs, particularly to benefit underserved communities.

The foundation has been a steady supporter of the series of annual BioBlitzes hosted by the National Geographic Society and the National Park Service, beginning in 2009 with the BioBlitz in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore outside Chicago.  I met Morrison at the Saguaro National Park BioBlitz this weekend, where she and her family joined 170 scientists and 2,000 students in the 24-hour inventory of species in the 94,000-acre preserve outside Tucson. Why does the Harold M. and Adeline S. Morrison Family Foundation invest in the BioBlitz, I asked her in the video interview above.

“We invest in areas locally that we care about,” she explained. “We have come to know and appreciate the BioBlitz sponsored by National Geographic and their incredible partner, the National Park Service. I love it particularly for selecting national parks close to urban areas. It’s an incredible opportunity to engage students in urban areas and connect them to the outdoors and this national treasure in their backyards.”

The BioBlitz is “a fabulous opportunity to go out in the field with the best scientists … and to learn firsthand about what treasure [students] have in their backyard,” Morrison continued. “By learning about it and growing aware of it, they come to love what they have and ultimately, our hope is, that through this process they will want to become stewards and advocates for it as they grow up.”

Morrison said she enjoyed seeing the Saguaro BioBlitz through the eyes of her own children and she watched the reaction of a boy from a local Tucson family after he had found a scorpion under a rock. “That was probably the highlight of his entire year, and my kids celebrated vicariously with him.”

The scientists help make the science and biodiversity in the park accessible to the students, Morrison observed. “We went out with an entomologist this morning, who just opened a new world to my kids, and I can just imagine what’s happening to students across the Tucson area because of this.”

With the growing urbanization of the U.S., Morrison added, connecting students to the parks right in their own backyards in urban areas is important not only for the whole national park system but also for protecting ecosystems, whether they are in the parks or not.

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.

Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

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