MICHIGAN—Wildfire Prevention Education and Mitigation specialist Debra-Ann Brabazon recently received the Eastern Region’s 2019 Gifford Pinchot award for Excellence in Interpretation and Environmental Education in recognition of her significant achievements in conservation education.
“This award is as much the Junior Rangers’ success as it is mine,” said Brabazon.
She is known in Wexford County for her youth engagement programs. She started by making the Forest Service Junior Ranger program an ongoing learning experience in her community. She then founded the Cadillac High School Ecology Club and the elementary-age “Junior Rangers in the Classroom” program. These programs aim to teach students about the natural history of the forest and what lives there, the human uses of the forest and how to be good stewards of their public lands.
Brabazon’s Ecology Club program introduces high school students to local land management professionals and engages them in local environmental issues. It teaches new skills and leadership qualities and allows students to grow as the next generation of land stewards. Students interested in going a step further become Junior Ranger volunteers and engage in high-profile community service projects benefiting the Cadillac community.
Collectively, the Junior Rangers have contributed over 100 hours of community service time to the Huron-Manistee National Forests through litter clean-ups, archaeological digs, senior community service days and other activities. Last year, Junior Rangers and Ecology Club members built and installed 237 bluebird boxes to be monitored as part of the Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology NestWatch Program.
This year, the two programs have their eyes on lakes Mitchell and Cadillac. They plan to research the impact of storm drains on water quality and to implement a “storm drain adoption” program while educating residents about water quality. It could be said they are taking Cadillac by storm, one drain at a time.
“By teaching the youth of today, we are grooming the stewards of tomorrow,” said Brabazon. “If we take the time to teach them now, we won’t have to retrain them in the future because they have been instilled with respect for their natural resources through exposure and hands-on learning.”
Brabazon has worked for Huron-Manistee National Forests for 14 years. She says she could not be prouder of the work her kids have done in their communities. “These students are incredible individuals. They will go on to win many awards themselves, I am sure of it!”
This year, the Forest Service recognized eight regional winners of the award and one winner from research and development; from these nine awardees, Beth Kennedy was selected as the National Gifford Pinchot award winner.