Dick Jordan carried the news to Timberline High School, and it wasn’t good. The wolf pack their school adopted more than 20 years ago had been killed, on purpose, by USDA’s Wildlife Services.
The students were shocked. Generations of Timberline wolves have been followed and studied by generations of students at Timberline High School. They’ve grown up together.
“I understand a lot of people think wolves are dangerous animals,” Michel Liao, a member of the school’s TREE Club (Teens Restoring Earth’s Environment) told The Washington Post. “But it was so shocking to see that federal agents were the ones to come into a pups’ den to kill them, even though the pups didn’t do anything.”
Dick wasn’t happy to bring this news to the students, but he was the best person to do so. He has been a high school teacher since the 1980’s. He launched the TREE club in Jerome High School back in 1990 and has carried it to other high schools throughout the region for decades. He knew the news would launch them into action. And it did.
Since that day, the Timberline TREE Club students have testified before the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Commission; spoken to the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ); written op-eds; been featured in news articles; they even have a documentary film maker recording their efforts.
In July they will be in DC. They are meeting with Director Williams of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service, CEQ, Senator Booker and Congressman Simpson. They are on a personal mission to stop the unregulated killing of wolves in Idaho.
These students are the current generation of young leaders that Dick Jordan is proud to know and mentor. He has worked with TREE Clubs in various schools for three decades.
“I think the extracurricular club is a very powerful force because if you are only taught curriculum in a classroom, the state controls the curriculum, but if it is an extracurricular club, you have more freedom to do things and to be an activist,” says Dick.
Two students at Jerome High School asked Dick to be their advisor for the first TREE Club. As the group formed, he found that the girls really wanted to have an ecology club, and the boys wanted an outdoor club. “The girls cared about the issues and the guys just wanted to go out and raft and rock climb and hike. The club met both of their needs: the boys learned about the issues and the girls were fearless in taking on the outdoors.
Over the decades, TREE Club members have tracked wolves in the field, and taken trips to Belize, Ecuador, and Costa Rica where they enjoyed multiday whitewater rafting and scuba diving. Everyone should have someone like Dick in their lives!
“I graduated in 1973, that’s when the Endangered Species Act was passed. There was a sense of optimism back then because we were able to change government. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act; there was a feeling that we the people could make a difference.”
“Today, there is a percentage of kids that are motivated and activated. But there is also a big percentage of kids that have given up because the challenges are so overwhelming. A lot of it depends on their mentors. If they have mentors that are helping them become involved, then they do become involved. If their mentors are not giving them any guidance or helping them dig into the issues, they are just going to do normal kid escapism. The ones that are motivated are extremely motivated. They have skillsets way beyond what we had back in the 1970’s and 80’s. They also have an ethical stance because they have access to information. They are exposed to an ethical mindset that we could only dabble in. We had Rachel Carson. There were a few books, but these guys. They can dig. They can find whatever they want.”
“Teachers are lucky because we get to work with students.” Dick says the students “make me humble and appreciative, and they rekindle an idealism that too many older people lose. It is something we all need, to return to that age of innocence, where we believe that anything is possible. I can’t thank them enough because I don’t feel my age. I just turned 67 and I am going strong. I live my life as if it is my last and it is. I don’t believe this is a dress rehearsal. Kids help me stay young and connected. TREE has changed my life because it has given me countless hours with students outdoors in wild and outdoor places. I would not be the same person without TREE.”
Dick is a member of the IWCN coexistence council, and his goal is to develop a Youth Council for the organization. This is the next step in his TREE Club journey. The coexistence mission of IWCN is near and dear to Dick. “I think coexistence is simply living together in a mutually beneficial way. It’s kind of like your marriage. If you have a good marriage, you have communication. It’s a relationship that involves communication and understanding. If you make decisions without understanding your partner, that is not going to work very well. But it is hard to shake the brainwashing of our society. They tell us that nature and its creatures are ours. We own them. When you think that, you are in a position of ownership of a commodity.” And that is not the basis of a good marriage.
A Youth Council can help students connect innovative ideas and positive stories of coexistence. Through TREE Clubs, many of Dick’s students have gone into conservation, science, nonprofits, and education. The experiences we provide these students will shape them into innovative leaders who will continue to learn and grow and show the world that we can coexist… with wildlife and each other.