This contest honors the life and legacy of Aldo Leopold, one of the most important advocates for the protection of wilderness in the 20th century. This is a particularly significant year to honor his legacy because 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Wilderness Act by Congress.
More than 150 entries were received from public, private and homeschools; 6th-12th grade students from all over New Mexico. The students were asked, “Describe what “wilderness” means to you and your community.” The entries were judged by a small panel of judges who work in the field of environmental education and advocacy. Three prizes of $500 were given in three categories based on grade levels: 6th–7th grade, 8th–9th grade and 10th–12th grade. As a bonus prize for the student with the best overall entry, her school received a $250 gift of a wilderness library, courtesy of Bookworks. The winning students were honored at a ceremony at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History during its Earth Day celebration in April.
For more information on the annual contest, contact Rowan Converse, biologist, Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program, Bosque School, Albuquerque. firstname.lastname@example.org
Student Profiles and Essays
All of the student entries were sponsored by a teacher. The sponsors of the winning students were asked to write a brief statement about their student to be read at the award ceremony.
6th grade, The International School at Mesa del Sol
Winner: 6th–7th grade category and overall winner
From teacher Chris O’Conner: “Kate Stratton has always been a hard worker and strives to do her best. She was excited to enter the essay competition and put her heart into writing her essay. She loves to travel and be outdoors. She especially enjoys hiking in the mountains and spending time on the beach. She also enjoys playing soccer and singing. Kate plans to go to college and wants to study environmental science, education, or possibly combine her passions and become an environmental educator.”
I watched as a crane finished off its corn lying on the cool green grass. I watched as that crane flew away higher into the sky, as its white feathered wings flapped gracefully through the air. I watched until the crane was gone, over the hills and mountains to find a place to sleep that night. I sat under a tree in the fall grass, feeling the cold air against my face, as I listened to the music of the wilderness.
That day changed me. I realized that “wilderness” is an amazing word. It’s a place that the trees can sway in the breeze and the animals can run free, untouched by human hands. It’s where blossoms can grow on peach trees almost ready to make the plump and juicy fruit. It’s where there are beautiful rock formations that are so tall that they can almost touch a fluffy white cloud overhead.
There is so much to learn from the word “wilderness,” such as peace. That one day that I watched the crane fly away gave me peace and love for nature and wilderness. People should love the world and treat it well. We should have love for beautiful rock formations or peach blossoms. The Wilderness Act is a way to embrace and understand that we are not the only living things on this planet. It’s a way to show love and peace to our environment that is so important to us. There are places that we must keep safe so we don’t forever ruin what we have and stop loving it. Wilderness is a reminder of the world and how lucky we are that we have it, but we must keep it safe. We must remember the raw beauty of life and how much we can learn from it.
9th grade, Española High School
Winner: 8th–9th grade category
From teacher Gloria Woelfel: “Kyra Sprague is a good student and makes good grades. She spends her summers at her grandparents’ mountain home in California. Presently she is a cheerleader and tennis player at Española Valley High School. She has a rabbit named “Labbit” and a dog named “Snoopy.” She enjoys hiking from a cabin retreat in Brazos, New Mexico. She plans to be a lawyer someday and has recently written to legislators in support of the Mexican Wolf Reintroduction program. Let’s hope that she becomes a legal advocate for wildlife in her future vocation as an attorney.”
Wilderness was a Safe Place
When was the last time you went exploring in the wilderness? Before everyone had cell phones and tablets, the great outdoors was the best kind of entertainment. It was a home for some of the most beautiful creatures, a laboratory for scientists and a place for wild adventures. Now, we barely see it. Wilderness is important to me and my community because we would not be alive without it.
In the continental U.S., 2.7 percent of the land is made up of protected wilderness. To this nation the wilderness means a decreasing percentage. We cut down trees without even thinking about our diminished oxygen supply. We hunt and kill animals without remembering that our ancestors once watched these creatures and learned from them. We are oblivious to the fact that we have gone too far to go back and we can’t correct ourselves, but we can slow down the process.
The wilderness is a natural habitat for so many amazing animals. It provides shelter for them and breeding grounds. Without the wilderness there would be no place for wildlife to procreate naturally. Zoos and wildlife facilities help to breed species and put them back in the wild, but no matter what humans do to prepare the animals, it doesn’t quite add up to being born and raised as a wild animal. Zoo raised animals don’t get the education they need to survive in the wild.
Scientists use protected wildlife areas for research. Information from the plants and animals living in a certain area can help them find possible problems with the area. The more scientists familiarize themselves with an issue, the faster they can work on treating it. But with so little protected areas left, how can we expect researchers to collect all the data they need to keep it alive?
For my whole life growing up, wilderness was a safe place to have fun and explore. My family and I would play games out there and bond. It made my family closer to each other which is now a scarce thing. Without that time, we wouldn’t be so close now.
The wilderness is important to me because it made me fall in love. It gave me something to be passionate about, and now I am set on conserving it so that one day, in many years, it will still be there for everyone to enjoy.
10th grade, Albuquerque Academy
Winner: 10th–12th grade category
From teacher Laura Matter: “Kobie Boslough developed an abiding love of the outdoors over the course of a childhood spent camping and backpacking with her family. She has translated her passion into a serious commitment to learn about environmental and ecological issues, with the hope of making a positive difference in the world. Recently, she began a self-directed community service project, for which she’s partnering with other organizations to monitor the Albuquerque watershed. She has also cultivated a deep knowledge of avian life, partly through the Albuquerque Academy birding club, and through caring for her own homing pigeons. Kobie is as dedicated a scholar as she is an outdoor enthusiast, and she had a passion for art and writing, particularly when she can use it to move the hearts and minds of others to understand and appreciate the natural world.”
Wild at Heart
My house lies on the border of urban and rural. It sits on the boundary between the world of black asphalt and the world of piñón and quaking aspen. If I opened my front door and walked directly west, I would encounter miles of tangled roadways and cement-block shopping centers. But if I turned east instead, I would follow meandering arroyos into juniper-spotted foothills, and onward until I reached the craggy granite peaks that I call home.
I find a certain comfort in the grooves of tree bark. When I press my nose up close to the trunk of a ponderosa, the smell of vanilla encompasses me. On hikes, I like to make chains out of shed pine needles before they unfurl and fall apart. Wilderness is something that engages all my senses and forces me to exist in the moment.
The thing about wilderness is that it doesn’t have to be remote and unattainable. It isn’t defined by where it is, but instead by what it means. For me, wilderness is home. It is a place where I can connect with myself, away from wires and cement. It is a meditative place, where I can escape from the pressures of everyday life. From a young age, the Sandía Mountains have always provided me with this sense of belonging. Because my house is located in their rolling foothills, I can easily walk down my driveway and into an arroyo that will take me far up a steep canyon, or wander around in a field of granite boulders bigger than me.
Unfortunately, my city sees the wilderness surrounding it as something to be encroached upon. Albuquerque’s expansion into its surrounding areas displays a general disregard for the pristine landscape around it. Though there are many people who love the wild as much as I do, the vast majority of my city’s inhabitants do not see the sickening sprawl of Albuquerque and how it is spilling into the wilderness. Empty lots are being leveled and drug stores are replacing cottonwood groves. Suburbs are being built where coyotes make their dens, and roads are carving through fields that had previously been covered in rabbit brush and cholla. The border between urban and rural is rapidly changing, and my home might cease to exist in a wild place. I might not be able to leave my house and go for a hike without having to dodge cars on my way to the open space in the east.
I wish beyond all else that my community would stop seeing the wilderness that surrounds us as something dispensable. I wish that other people felt the same way as I do about the mountains, because like Aldo Leopold, I cannot live without wild things. If more people felt a sense of love and respect for the wilderness that we make our homes in, we might be able to protect these wild places that play such a large role in our lives.