New ideas in conservation
AS CONSERVATIONISTS, we often focus on the wildlife component of conservation without taking the human part into account. But for people like Megan Harwell, the National Wildlife Federation’s Community Partnerships Fellow, understanding human behavior is key to the success of any wildlife conservation effort.
While working remotely as a communication coach, Harwell had the opportunity to travel the world (above, in Colombia), becoming interested in how different communities take stewardship over wildlife. “I began looking at the human element within conservation,” says Harwell, “at behaviors and attitudes, how you get people to conserve and how you build empathy.”
Such questions led Harwell to pursue conservation psychology, a burgeoning field of science that focuses on the relationships between humans and wildlife. Now in graduate school at Antioch University New England in New Hampshire, she has designed her own conservation psychology major, taking classes on a variety of subjects such as Indigenous knowledge systems, education and outreach and evaluating conservation programs.
In her role as a fellow, Harwell is assessing how NWF partners with communities and looks for opportunities to improve these relationships. In a field as rapidly changing as conservation, she says, understanding how to inspire stewardship over wildlife is an invaluable tool to save wildlife—and ourselves.
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