Inspiring Youth Project: Native Wildlife Winter Wonderland


🎶 Oh the weather outside is frightful—at least in parts of the US that have distinct seasons and cold winters! But every ecosystem experiences shifts throughout the year, presenting native wildlife with unique challenges to overcome. Just as we help out in our human communities when times are tough—donating time or supplies for disaster relief, or even holding celebrations during the darkest days of the year—we can show compassion to our non-human animal neighbors! This is the motivation behind one Roots & Shoots group’s project, 🔗 Wildlife in Winter, out of East Jordan, Michigan!

Group leader and parent Katie used the Roots & Shoots 4-Step Formula to create a community project. She was first Step 1: Inspired to form a Roots & Shoots group with her family and a neighboring family in order to build a sense of community through impactful projects. With their appreciation for animals, local wildlife is very much a part of that community! Both families live on mature cedar swamps, and they Step 2: Observed that many animals were using this ecosystem during the winter. However, they realized that the swamp wasn’t as lush with vegetation as it could be, and especially in the winter, that left wildlife with few resources to feed on and shelter under.

This is when they decided to Step 3: Take Action by planting native trees around the swamplands for deer and other animals to use when they move to their wintering grounds. While they originally thought to plant white cedar seedlings, after consulting with their local conservation district, they learned that red osier dogwoods would serve as a more available alternative. They obtained the dogwoods from this same conservation district during their yearly spring seedling sale, and picked out a small area to start with; as they reflected on later, trying to cover too much ground at once would have been overwhelming.

One issue: by the time this group had their plan set out and their seedlings to plant, it was the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was not safe for both participating families to interact closely. In order to remain socially-distanced while still following through on their project goals, they decided to split up the work; one family handled the preparation of the planting area—clearing dead trees, brush, and invasive plants—while the other did the actual planting. For Katie, who was on the planting team, “walking the woods with my dog was an awesome way to spend a day.”

Good dog walks included, the project was a success worth Step 4: Celebrating! Both families enjoyed this project so much that they returned to it the following year, planting American hazelnut trees on the recommendation of a local forester. The adults in this group have had their work cut out for them pulling up invasive buckthorn bushes—which grow faster than native trees and are inedible for native white-tailed deer—but still, this group of changemakers have managed to plant between 50 and 100 trees each year! Every bit adds up, and it will be exciting to see how they continue this project going forward.

Not only did this group create safe habitat for their local wildlife during the winter, they also had a bonus effect: as these dogwoods and hazelnut trees grow up and out, all the additional root systems will grow deep into the ground, stabilizing the streambanks and slowing soil erosion into their local Jordan River. Stopping soil erosion will in turn help local trout populations and prevent flooding—another example of how one project with one intended goal quickly multiplies in impact. They started this project to help wildlife, but because everything is connected, they’ve now helped people and the wider ecosystem as well!

Want to help green your community? Join đź”— Jane’s Green Hope!


Once you’ve signed up as a member and come up with a project, be sure to register it on our website for a chance to be featured in a future project of the month! Not a Roots & Shoots member yet? You’re only a few clicks away! 

Become a Member and Register your Project 

Not sure how to start a project? Use our đź”— 4-Step Formula to find ways to make an impact in YOUR community! Remember to invite your friends to help out, because even when we take small actions, they’re multiplied by collaboration. You can even create a Roots & Shoots group at your school, or join one already in your area! 

Looking for a simple way to help out? Here are some 1-click actions you can take to create safe, green spaces for native wildlife in your community! 

đź”— Backyard Wildlife Refuge: Wherever you are, you can make sure native wildlife has safe spaces to live, find food, and raise their young—no matter the season! 

đź”— Plant Native Trees: Like this group, you can learn about the importance of planting native trees to protect biodiversity and combat climate change! 

About Author

Kira is the communications coordinator for JGI programs at the Jane Goodall Institute USA, where she supports the team in advancing public engagement with JGI's holistic programs. Kira graduated from Smith College in 2021, majoring in anthropology and minoring in art history, and during her time there she developed a deep interest in the field of anthrozoology. Her interests within this field are broad, and have led her to study elephant iconography in the U.S. and wildlife management in Tanzania. JGI's values and mission as well as the mindset of anthrozoology guide her work, exploring the interactions between humans and other animals in order to promote a healthier coexistence on this shared planet.