The Canadian Wildlife Federation’s WILD Outside program connects teens with the natural worldAs students prepare to head back into classrooms, teens with an interest in environmental issues may want to consider making room in their schedules for an outdoor program with a cause.
The youth of today benefit from time outdoors, says Emma MacPherson. “Time spent in nature certainly appears to promote a passion and desire to be environmentally conscious. The youth of today have a lot of drive and passion to be stewards of the environment. They are incredible leaders and will pass along this drive to future generations.” This is where WILD Outside—of which MacPherson is a local youth leadership specialist—comes in.
A program of the Kanata-headquartered Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF), WILD Outside—for youth ages 15 to 18—launched in March 2020 with the goal of encouraging youth to give back to their communities through meaningful service.
CWF strives to make the outdoors and the field of conservation more inclusive and accessible to everyone by removing barriers, says WILD Outside manager Kira Balson. “We encourage participation in any capacity in safe and inclusive spaces and empower youth to put their passion for conservation into action while deepening their appreciation for wildlife and the natural world.”
These first-person experiences are important, especially for youth, says WILD Outside’s marketing manager Samantha Mills. “It’s through these experiences that the CWF hopes youth will develop a strong conservation ethic and grow into adults that make conscientious decisions with the environment in mind.”
Although Ottawa youth leadership specialist Abhishek Gupta says it’s important for everyone to be conscious of the environment—”we are all part of this ecosystem”— “the younger generation holds a greater responsibility in being environmentally conscious, as they will be the driving force behind innovative solutions to the climate change challenges we currently face.”
Free of charge to join, WILD Outside has won several awards including the Canadian Museum of Nature’s Nature Inspiration Award. The program is now accessible in 17 cities across Canada, including Ottawa, and a new arm of the program allows volunteers to start up their own WILD Outside initiatives in communities where they currently do not exist.
To date, 1,663 participants across Canada have contributed 48,758 service hours to 559 community service projects including repurposing plastic waste, planting pollinator gardens for seniors, installing bat houses and removing invasive species.
Through WILD Outside, 16-year-old Serena Keon has participated in kayarafting, trail maintenance in Gatineau Park, beach and park cleanups and birdhouse building. “I released a baby turtle, I did a March active home challenge, and I attended a few educational conservation nature online workshops. There were also a few gardening activities, including a community intergenerational garden and a garden where produce was donated to the food bank.” But her favourite activity was a trip to the Kenauk Institute in Montebello, QC, where she learned about the effects that climate change has on forests and trees, sustainable practices for fish farms and how companies can cut trees in the least environmentally damaging way.
“WILD Outside offers a unique opportunity for youth to experience nature from a fresh perspective as we create meaningful service opportunities, do outdoor activities, and bring in industry experts and field naturalists,” Gupta says. “Through these experiences, young participants have the chance to connect with their surroundings and develop a deeper appreciation for the natural world.”
Getting youth outside and supporting conservation are at the core of the program, but WILD Outside supports many other educational outcomes and goals, including improving mental health, lowering stress and encouraging active play and exploratory learning. “This next generation is struggling to establish a healthy relationship with technology,” says Mills. “WILD Outside helps young people bond with passionate like-minded individuals in person in the natural environment for less screen time and more green time.”
Another key benefit is the provision of service opportunities. “We encourage youth to work towards 120 service hours, but many of them fall in love with the program and go above and beyond to earn 200 or 300 hours,” Mills continues. These service hours can be put on a resume, or towards school requirements or award applications.
The program also helps participants develop leadership skills, with youth often shaping the events and activities in the program itself. Many, says MacPherson, have goals to work in conservation, science, or to run eco-friendly initiatives. Gupta adds that the program has opened doors “by [allowing] young individuals to explore their passions and potentially pursue a career aligned with their interests.”
“I see youth grow by increasing their comfort zones in the outdoors and learning valuable skills that give them the confidence to continue exploring,” says MacPherson. “They also learn to work with others. A lot of our activities require teamwork and leadership to complete the tasks.”
A national, not-for-profit charitable organization dedicated to conserving Canada’s wildlife and habitats for the use and enjoyment of all, CWF spreads knowledge of human impacts on wildlife and the environment; conserves and restores species and habitats; develops and delivers conservation education programs; advocates for changes to government policy and programs, and co-operates with like-minded partners. Learn more at Canadianwildlifefederation.ca.
What happens after WILD Outside?
After participants age out of the program, they’re encouraged to join the Canadian Conservation Corps for adults ages 18 to 30 which includes:
- An adventure expedition somewhere in Canada, such as sea kayaking in Newfoundland or hiking the Rockies in Alberta
- A learning placement with one of CWF’s environmental non-profit partners
- An impactful conservation project in their home communities
This program has proven a life-changing experience for participants, says Samantha Mills. “Participants often decide to pursue an education in conservation, find jobs either with their placements or elsewhere in the conservation field, start businesses or non-profits and more.”
WILD Outside programming
Service projects which support nature and conservation Park cleanups; building bird houses for endangered species; turtle nest protectors; growing vegetables; making murals on windows to reduce bird collisions; restoring trails, transplanting native species out of the way of human traffic; planting wildflowers
Outdoor activities and skill building Ice safety courses; paddling; hiking; bird watching; nature photography; survival; bushcraft skill workshops; plant and fungi identification; nature journaling
Virtual opportunities and home challenges Webinars with educational speakers; movies or videos on conservation topics; wildlife-focused trivia nights; crafts; gardening; independent learning; park cleanups
“When youth, with their busy schedules, homework and extracurriculars take time to be a part of a program like this, it speaks volumes.” — Emma MacPherson