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.