Preserving the Sooner State
Since he was a boy, Edmond native and resident, Andy McDaniels has been interested in the outdoors and protecting the Sooner State’s natural resources. Now, the 37-year old is the executive director of the Oklahoma Wildlife Federation, a position he’s held for five years. And it’s a role he’s very passionate about.
“Increasingly, we’re seeing a huge disconnect between people and the world around us,” McDaniels said. “We have a moral obligation to do what’s right.”
That ‘disconnect,’ McDaniels said, is part of a cultural shift that has been increasing since the early 20th century. As society went from agrarian to urban, fewer and fewer people had a connection with the land. However, McDaniels had an advantage growing up. His family were all staunch conservationists, including his grandfather who headed the state’s Wildlife Federation in the 1960’s, which had started some thirty years earlier as the Oklahoma Outdoors Council. The state affiliate eventually became part of the National Wildlife Federation – an organization with millions of members and the biggest conservation organization in the world.
“I grew up around [conservation] my whole life,” McDaniels said over coffee at a local coffeehouse. “When I was a kid I spent plenty of time hunting, fishing and camping. Just being in the outdoors.”
That love of creation ultimately led McDaniels on the path he has taken right up to this point in time as the OWF’s head honcho. He said that at the time he took over, the OWF had lost thousands of members and it was time that more was done to bring folks back into the fold.
“I felt they had alienated the hunting and fishing folks,” McDaniels said. “They’d stopped listening to them.”
But when McDaniels came on board in October 2002, he was able to get the organization to pursue the purchase of more public land, including a $1.6 million purchase of land along the lower Illinois River. This was just one of many public lands and conservation projects the OWF took on. However, when you talk to McDaniels, it’s clear that the next generations of young people are the ones that are going to have to take over the reins regarding conservation in Oklahoma and in the United States.
“We have become a society where we are dependent on other things to watch our children for us,” McDaniels said, noting the rise in the number of families with two parents working and the children spending more time indoors, engrossed with television, computers and video games. “We’ve seen a real change in American culture.”
He noted the skyrocketing obesity rates among children, an increase in attention-deficit disorder and increasing numbers of fearful parents unwilling to let their children explore their surroundings unsupervised.
“When I was growing up it was quite normal to go out and ride your bike and play outside. You just don’t see that as much anymore,” he said, noting how he’d explore an acre of land on horseback when he was a boy. “I’m afraid at this rate we’re going to have a generation that doesn’t understand conservation.”
This change is not only sociological but ecological as well. McDaniels, who has seen drastic environmental changes in his hometown of Edmond, is worried when he cites statistics showing a fifty percent decline in the number of songbirds in the U.S. due to urban sprawl and global climate change.
“We’re destroying their habitat,” he said glumly. “This is why [OWF] has started the schoolyard and backyard habitat program.”
This new program, McDaniels explained, helps young people in Oklahoma learn techniques, which help maintain habitats even in urban environments where wildlife can survive and even thrive. Planting trees and shrubs alone can help in maintaining and enhancing habitats for birds, deer and other critters.
“Something as simple as food, water, cover and a place for animals to raise their young can act as a backyard habitat,” McDaniels said. “Birdbaths, feeders … just get them out there.”
McDaniels said the feedback for the Federation’s habitat program has been very positive. “And right now we’ve got 700 of these habitat programs going on around the state.”
Most folks interested in these habitat programs contact the OWF. He hopes more will continue to do so. And beyond the state’s borders, in Washington, D.C., McDaniels said members of congress have been looking favorably upon his efforts heading the OWF.
“We’ve got a lot of support in D.C.,” he said confidently.
McDaniels is now hoping to continue to effectively spread the word about the Oklahoma Wildlife Foundation. He hopes more people will take the time to contact the OWF and consider purchasing a $25 membership.
For more information on the Oklahoma Wildlife Foundation, go to www.okwildlife.org.