Conservation Coordinator Juliet Craig

As program manager of the Kootenay Conservation Program, Juliet Craig helps more than 80 groups in the southeast corner of BC to work together to protect the area’s wildlife and waterways. This purposeful parent has always been driven to work with nature, and loves working in a role where she is able to make a difference — especially while able to work at home, and around the lives of her children, ages nine and seven.

We spoke with Craig about the work she does, how we can raise children with a love of nature — who care about the world they live in — and how she balances work and motherhood.

Why did you start doing what you do?

I’ve always worked in conservation and biology, and even as a little girl I always loved animals and wanted to be a biologist. I’d had various jobs in the field, including one working with invasive plant species, and another with bat conservation [Craig is still involved with the Kootenay Community Bat Projectand helped start the BC Community Bat Programs], and had seen firsthand how effective it is when you take a collaborative approach to conservation like this project does. When I saw this job posting it just kind of all tied together, and it’s still a part time job that I do from home so I can balance it with my kids which was a huge priority for me.

What kind of groups are involved with this project?

There’s a real variety of groups doing various projects and initiatives. This includes streamkeepers groups, rod and gun clubs, invasive plant committees, the land trusts who actually buy or put covenants or easements on land for conservation, the provincial, federal, local government, and First Nations. We’re basically a network of partners and and our role is coordinating and facilitating. So we don’t actually do the work, we help provide them with capacity.

So you do what exactly?

We do training workshops and meetings and webinars. We coordinate the land trusts so that they’re all sitting at the same table and taking a collaborative approach to conservation and a strategic approach together. And we bring the various organizations doing stewardship work, conservation work together to help that work and build capacity.

Also the program I’m working for was also instrumental in developing a tax-based conservation fund. So private landowners actually voted in a referendum to tax themselves to put into conservation. This was the first fund of its kind to happen in Canada, though it has now happened in other regions too. The Kootenay Conservation Program was instrumental in making that happen.

Private landowners agreed to tax themselves? Why?

Because they want to steward the land, and they recognize the impact that they can have on conservation. Private land is a big conservation issue. In this area of BC only 6.7 percent of the land base is private, but it has an extremely high percentage of the species at risk occurrences — 70–90 percent of the species that are endangered, or vulnerable, or threatened occur on private land.

What does this work bring to your life?

It’s so satisfying. Honestly, I think everyday how blessed I am to work in a career that I love, that I’m passionate about, and that I feel is making a difference. I think that to have that opportunity is amazing and I feel so lucky. It wasn’t easy to do this work. When I was studying biology in the late 80s it was a very male dominated field, especially wildlife biology, and, virtually everyone told me you’ll never be able to work in wildlife biology, you’ll always be in a lab. And I didn’t want to be in a lab, I wanted to be outside, and so I just took a lot of volunteer opportunities. I volunteered to study orangutans in Borneo, and chimpanzees in Uganda. I’ve just done a lot of different projects that helped build my experience and just really demonstrated that this is what I want to be doing, helping the creatures of the world, and their habitats in some way.

Why is this work important?

It is a really big thing, this responsibility as homeowners and private landowners, ranchers, agriculturalists — whoever we are — to steward our property in order to protect wildlife. We can help create natural habitats on our property or we can protect large expanses of land and help create wetlands, or steward wetlands. If you have a bat colony in your attic you can steward that somehow, whether that’s keeping it where it is or evicting them in a sensitive way with a bat house. There’s lots of things private landowners can do for conservation, no matter the size of the land you have.

Has parenthood changed how you view your work?

I think my life is more in balance now. Before I had kids I just worked a lot and now I try to only work when they’re in school hours. But in terms of what I do I feel it’s easier to visualize what the world going to look like in 50 years because my kids will be in their 50s. You know that long term thinking and approach to the world and the environment, and it’s easier when you’re talking about a generation that’s real to you, that’s in your house.

I think that everyone wants to leave the world a better place in general, but when you have people you’re leaving it to in your own home it strikes a chord. I want these beautiful open spaces and the abundant wildlife we have in BC, to all be there when my children are older.

What do your kids think about what you do?

I think they think it’s really cool. One of the things our organization does is once a year is help organize a critter day, which is basically to raise awareness of these interesting animals that are at risk in part of our region. My kids come, and they see me working there. They’ve got to release the little sturgeon, which is one of the oldest fish species of of fish in the world, and they got to hold a rubber boa, which — to me — is the most beautiful snake in the world, it’s like a giant worm. I get to see that my kids really are engaged, they have love and respect for these animals. Just this morning for example, my son saw a spider in the sink, and rather than just running water over it and washing it down the drain he called me and said there’s a spider that dropped in the sink, and I said, “Oh let’s get it out and we pulled it out and put it outside.

I feel like it’s that ethic that we need to instill in our children to care about the world, beyond ourselves. So when we care about the environment it’s not just for our own benefit, it’s not just because the impact climate change will have on humans. It’s because there’s this array of other species we have to think about and that are, to me, equally valid to be in this world. That’s what I’m trying to instill in my kids.

What can parents do to help their children fall in love with the natural world?

I think that the first step when children are young is just to install a love and connection to nature. Whether that’s taking them to the park, or taking them on a hike or getting them camping. It’s just about building that love and fascination for nature, even if we may not have come from that ourselves. I was really excited when my daughter had caught her first snake and was holding it. Because it’s hard to catch a snake, they’re quite quick. And she was only three and then another person came and went, “Oh my God.”

I think that we have to recognize that the fear of, and disgust with, some animals — particularly things like bats, snakes, rodents, spiders — is a learned behaviour. My daughter was playing with other girls in a tide pool, they had found these eels and the the girls were squealing, “Ugh, ew,” and the next day my daughter started to go “Ew, these eels.” I looked at her and I said oh I thought they were fascinating and she stopped doing it and it really made it apparent to me that it’s a learned behaviour.

So even if a parent feels that hesitation, or that fear around snakes, or spiders or something like that, but they can try to remember that they’ve learned that and remember that it’s important not to teach that to your children — keep that to yourself. So, if your kids are fascinated by an insect, which most children are, let them be. And to try to engage in that as much as you feel comfortable doing, because I know for some parents, especially mothers, that can be challenging. But I think it’s important. And learning — getting books from the library about different animals, and interesting facts about them. Whenever there’s any kind of program here we try to go to it and learn about that and engage. Programs like the Young Naturalists, and things like that are very helpful.

I don’t talk with my kids with the heavy environmental problems yet, although I think that there’s a stage where that can be introduced. I feel like my son, who’s now 9, probably in the next year or two I’ll feel more comfortable talking about the issues and problems and how we can solve them. I mean we recycle in the house, we walk to the school bus as often as we can. We practice things that are just normal for them and we’ve never really talked too much about why, and I think I think it’s easy to bombard our kids when they’re too young with all the heavy problems, and I don’t think that’s what they need.

What do you think you have in common with other moms?

Well I think finding the balance between work and family and health and everything else is challenging. That is what I started to prioritize this year, finally. I just said you know, I need to get exercise somehow and I go to the gym three mornings a week now. I have a really understanding husband, and he goes to hot yoga three mornings a week, on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and I thought well then I can go Tuesday, Thursday. So he gets the kids ready and shoves them out the door, so those are my mornings for exercise. Connecting with friends is a huge thing for me and I try to do that, and music. I’ve tried to bring guitar and music back into my life, and time outside. There’s just so many things to fit in, right? But I feel like when we’re on the treadmill too much we forget how.

What other moms do you admire?

To be perfectly honest I admire any mom. I just think it’s one of the toughest roles in the world, 24/7, non-stop, and I don’t think I recognized until I was one. These beautiful people depend on you constantly, so that means they’re in your space, which is both good and bad — sometimes you’re like, “I just need my space.” And things become heart wrenching, like the thought of something happening to them, to love people that much is overwhelming. I have great admiration for mothers who stay at home all day, because I think that is incredibly tough, as it is for mothers who are trying to balance a career out of the home and kids, it’s just a tough job for everyone.

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