Innovating for Wildlife

An Interview with Dawn Rodney of National Wildlife Federation

by Editorial

In 2018, Dawn Rodney assumed the newly minted role of Vice President of Innovation and Chief Marketing Officer at National Wildlife Federation with the goal of spurring innovation across the conservation organization with six million members and helping it to achieve its ambitious agenda to recover America’s wildlife. Leading to Earth Day, with one-third of wildlife species at a heightened risk of extinction, we spoke to Rodney about the initiatives underway to recover species before they are lost forever. >>

Tell us about some of your most exciting, more pioneering initiatives. One of the most exciting innovation initiatives I’ve led is Garden For Wildlife and our native plant collections. These scientifically-curated native plant collections help the maximum number of wildlife and it’s one of the ways anyone can help wildlife, no matter where they live.

Three billion songbirds have disappeared. Ninety percent of monarchs are gone. And one in four native bee species are at risk for extinction. Planting native plants – especially the native plants in our collections – is a way to address this wildlife crisis through a market-based solution.

Let’s turn to children. Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick Jr. are your signature children’s nature magazines that have facts about wildlife and inspire outdoor adventure. How has it evolved? The editorial quality of Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick, Jr. are unequaled in kids publishing so that hasn’t changed. And kids have always loved animals. I do think kids today more than ever really do want to make a difference in the world and want to help wildlife and the planet.

The Ranger Rick Jr. 10th Anniversary issue [with a 360-degree print-to-digital experience and digital scavenger hunt] is my favorite so far. I just love the innovative storytelling and interactive games.

Ranger Rick and Friends. (Courtesy National Wildlife Federation.)

What inspired you to want to help educate children and families about wildlife and earth day? Research shows that children are spending more time indoors than ever before and becoming more and more disconnected from nature. That’s our challenge and that’s what inspires me to do this work. The only way we’ll have future stewards of the planet is by inspiring children from the earliest age possible to love and protect wildlife and this planet.

Has your organization seen a heightened engagement from children? Oh yes, we’ve definitely seen a greater commitment from children to help wildlife and the environment. They’re so inspirational and have so many innovative ideas on how to help. It makes me hopeful for the future!

Photo by Anna Vecchio, courtesy National Wildlife Federation

What features do kids respond to best on your various platforms? We found kids really enjoy activities they can do over and over again like the “what animal are you?” personality test. Ranger Rick kids love to create things on their own, so activities like creating their own story or interacting with Ranger Rick and his friends with #AskScarlett or #TalktoRangerRick get lots of engagement.

 As we head into Earth Day, what do you believe is the most essential information to know? Earth Day is such an important celebration and an opportunity for everyone to recommit to making even small changes in their lives to address the challenges we face. These challenges – for people and wildlife alike – are immense. Individual actions, from recycling to planting a pollinator garden, really do add up and help.

TOP SPOTS:

The national zoo is one of my favorite places to go to see animals from around the world.

You can’t beat skyline drive for its views of nature!

I like the easier hiking trails of Roosevelt island – some wonderful wildlife watching too!

Dinosaur land is a wonderful tree-filled park with lots of fun activities for kids of any age.

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