Conserve Wildlife Blog

Local Scouts Learn about Reptile and Amphibian Conservation in Pursuit of Their Environmental Science Merit Badge

September 8th, 2022

By Christine Healy

Wildlife biologist Christine Healy teaches the scouts about CWF’s work to protect the federally threatened bog turtle. Credit: Jim Kasprzak.

The classic justification for conserving wildlife is, of course, to protect diversity for future generations. While that’s not my go-to motivation for pursuing this line of work (I believe in the intrinsic value of nature and feel we are obligated to serve as good planetary stewards), I always feel over the moon when kids demonstrate the passion and interest in getting involved in this critical mission early on. When I received a request from Scouts BSA Troop #276 for assistance in earning their environmental science merit badge, I was eager to comply.

Earning a merit badge is no easy feat. It takes time and hard work, which is why attaining the rank of eagle scout, requiring the acquisition of at least 21 merit badges in addition to demonstrating leadership and service to the community, is such an achievement. For the environmental science badge, scouts must  1) study the history of the environmental movement in the US; 2) understand vocabulary relevant to wildlife, pollution, and green energy; 3) complete an activity relevant to seven of the following categories: ecology, air pollution, water pollution, land pollution, endangered species, pollution prevention, pollination, and invasive species; 4) complete a comparative study between two distinct habitat types; 5) practice drafting an environmental impact statement; and 6) research three career opportunities available in the field. Like I said, no easy feat, but Sebastian, Aidan, and Josh are up to the task.

One of the activities under the endangered species category in deliverable #3 included meeting with a natural resource professional to learn about two local initiatives that aim to protect habitat for threatened and at-risk species. The troop’s location and familiarity with CWF’s rescue nights on Waterloo Rd. made the Amphibian Crossing Project an ideal candidate and led to troop dad, Jim, connecting with me. We decided to meet at Waterloo Village on a Sunday morning so the boys could learn about frogs and salamanders against the backdrop of New Jersey’s largest vernal pool. As I started to explain the foundation of the project, Josh’s little brother Adam, a cub scout who joined the group along with his dad, immediately raised his hand and asked me about the installation of the future tunnel system. To say I was impressed that someone so young was already aware of the pressures that habitat fragmentation place on wildlife, and the solutions to those problems, would be an understatement.

After our amphibian discussion, we moved on to talking about bog turtles, another CWF priority species that occurs in the vicinity of Sussex County. I’m pretty used to folks initially thinking I’m mispronouncing “box turtles” when discussing this shy and elusive species (referred to as New Jersey’s unicorns by a few consultants that I know), so the boys surprised me once again by their familiarity with this tiny testudine. I told the group about the importance of landowner participation in habitat conservation, CWF’s study on the effectiveness of water buffalo at controlling wetland invasive plants, and then challenged them to figure out how to notch a turtle shell, a practice used to ID repeat turtles and better estimate population size. Working together, they did it correctly on the first try.

Scout Sebastian practices measuring a box turtle carapace using calipers.

In an age where the headlines often run rampant with depressing environmental news, kids like these scouts provide some much-needed hope that the strides we’re making today will be enhanced and supported by future leaders. Thanks to Troop #276 for your interest in CWF and good luck with the rest of your requirements!

Merit badges supporting wildlife don’t stop at environmental science! Scouts BSA also offers opportunities to learn about bird study, fish and wildlife management, forestry, insect study, mammal study, plant science, nature, reptile and amphibian study, soil and water conservation, and sustainability. If you have a child in your life that enjoys being outside and loves animals, consider looking into local packs!

Troop #276 scouts Sebastian, Aidan, and Josh show off what they learned about reptile and amphibian conservation.

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