Ronnell Blakeney is a team leader with Earth Conservation Corps, an organization with a mission “to empower our endangered youth to restore the Anacostia River, their communities and their lives.” The Anacostia is a tributary of the Potomac River that was so polluted from development and industrial discharge that it was dubbed “D.C.’s forgotten river”. Ronnell was at the BioBlitz on the National Mall on Saturday to show off this magnificent Harris’s hawk from the Earth Conservation Corps Raptor Conservation program — and to talk about his work for the initiative.
Under strict federal and state permits, the Earth Conservation Corps conducts educational programs with non-releasable birds of prey to teach Corps members, school children, and volunteers about pollution, adaptations, habitats, and food chains. “Despite the Anacostia River’s pollution problems, water quality has improved enough to support a growing population of birds of prey,” the Corps says on the Raptor Conservation page of its website. “The presence of raptors in the Anacostia Watershed — who sit atop the food chain — signals the return of a healthy river ecosystem that Corps members work to preserve and expand.”
Earth Conservation Corps is famous for its program to restore the bald eagle, America’s national bird, as a nesting resident in the nation’s capital. A pair of bald eagles, Liberty and Justice, have raised young for 11 years in a nest 110 feet up an oak tree at the Metropolitan Police Academy in SE Washington, D.C. (Watch the birds on EagleCam.)
“The eagles are an urban wildlife success story,” the Corps website says. In 1946 pollution of the Anacostia River forced Washington, D.C.’s last pair of bald eagles to abandon their nest. In 1994, the teenage volunteers of the Earth Conservation Corps launched their bold experiment to try to bring back the bird.
Says the Corps website: Under U.S. Fish and Wildlife permits, the Corps translocated 16 baby eagles from nests in Wisconsin to an artificial “hack box” at the U.S. National Arboretum. After being raised for six weeks at the Arboretum, the juvenile eagles were released into the skies over Washington. Four eaglets were released every spring from 1994 to 1998. Between the eagle restoration efforts, the youth of the Earth Conservation Corps galvanized the entire city in their mission to restore the eagles’ Anacostia River habitat.
David 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.