Mandela van Eeden poses by her car next to a river

How To Protect Wildlife

Photo: Courtesy of Mandela van Eeden

Simple conservation tips from Montana storyteller Mandela van Eeden, who documents the effects of climate change on hunting and fishing.

Growing up on a private nature reserve in South Africa and in the mountains of Montana, Mandela van Eeden has a unique perspective on wildlife and public lands. Half the year, she learned to steward the land and the animals on the reserve her grandmother had created to protect it from development. It was a private reserve, not open to anyone else—a common model in many parts of the world. The other half of the year, she spent fly fishing with her dad in Montana, where rivers and streams are public up to the high-water line. 

It was a clear juxtaposition for van Eeden: In no other country are land, waters, and wildlife held in trust for the people, rather than owned by an elite. “It’s very special that the United States has these amazing resources that are available to everyone. It’s why I fight for them,” she said. 

Now based in Missoula, Mont., van Eeden is the Sporting Communications Coordinator for National Wildlife Federation Outdoors, which connects hunters and anglers with conservation solutions; and its sister program Artemis Sportswomen, which grows the community of female hunters and anglers, engaging them in conservation efforts. Van Eeden is a new media storytelling guru who runs the NWF Outdoors podcast, the Vanishing Seasons podcast, and Climate Chronicles films on the effects of climate change on hunting and fishing. She also helps Artemis ambassadors around the country share their stories across mediums.

One through-line in all those creative works: We can’t assume the fact that our public lands and the wildlife they support will remain public or thriving, van Eeden says. Wildlife is under threat from multiple directions, from privatization efforts and development to climate change and increased pressure from an explosion of outdoor recreation since the pandemic. 

“Conservation isn’t a spectator sport,” she says. “We have to be responsible when we’re in the outdoors, and we need to advocate on behalf of the resources and wildlife. Use your voice to speak up.”

Mandela van Eeden poses with her fishing rod by the river Photo: Courtesy of Mandela van Eeden

4 Easy Ways To Protect Wildlife

Handle Fish Properly

“Try not to take the fish out of the water,” van Eeden says, “especially in the hot summer months. We see these pictures of people holding fish up, and I’d love to move toward pictures of people holding them under the water.”

In fact, she says, try not to touch the fish at all, which removes the glyco-protein slime that shields them from parasites and the scales that provide protection and reduce water turbulence. Instead, use a net and a barbless hook for easy extraction to avoid handling them directly. 

Move Quietly or Avoid Areas With Sensitive Populations

Many animals are sensitive to noisy activity, and even to our presence alone in their habitat. Elk avoid trails and roads and the human activities associated with them, like hiking, mountain biking, and ATV use, which means they spend more energy moving and less energy foraging for food, impacting their health and ability to reproduce. A dwindling population of bighorn sheep in the Tetons has faced pressure from increased numbers of backcountry skiers encroaching on their habitat. And these are just a couple of examples.

“Try silent hikes or floats, or silent movement of whatever it is you’re doing,” van Eeden recommends. “And if you come across an animal, take a different trail or make a new plan so you can give it space.”

Support the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act

Roughly one-third of America’s wildlife species are at increased risk of extinction. But funding conservation efforts can reverse that course. We’ve done it before, to bring iconic species like bison and bald eagles back from the brink. The Recovering America’s Wildlife Act is a bipartisan bill to allow states, territories, and tribes to invest $1.4 billion in on-the-ground work to restore habitat, control invasive species, reconnect migration routes, and more. The House already passed it, and the Senate bill is upcoming.

“If passed, this would be the most significant conservation legislation in a generation,” van Eeden says. Tell your Senator to support it. 

Get Connected

“Anglers have a long history with conservation, and I’m not sure most people know that,” van Eeden says. A good way to get involved in carrying that tradition forward is to join a community like Artemis or NWF Outdoors. “We’re constantly sharing tips on fishing and conservation. And it’s really important everyone feels welcomed no matter their background or who they identify as. The more we can grow our community, the more we can speak out on behalf of these animals that we have a responsibility to protect.”

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.