Kids Fighting for Endangered Species

They may not leap tall buildings in single bounds, but California grade school kids are becoming true heroes with the state’s Adopt-A-Species program. In a state that has more endangered and threatened species than any other in the continental U.S., kid volunteers have found a way to turn their youthful energies and enthusiasm into a force to save animals and rare plants.

Beginning in the classroom, young kids use a resource guide compiled by the Department of Education, the Department of Fish and Game and the National Audubon Society to select a species native to their own locale. Then they work to learn everything they can about their adopted charges, including the real-world environmental dangers that may be threatening them like encroaching development, pollution and apathy.

Outside the classroom, armed with shovels, hoes and determination, the kids become environmental forces to be reckoned with by cleaning, replanting and restoring habitats. “If the endangered species act were implemented like these kids and their teachers work, we’d all be better off,” says rancher Paul Martin.

One of the most encouraging projects has been The Shrimp Club at Brookside Elementary School in San Anselmo, California. Since 1992, successive groups of fourth, fifth and sixth graders have set about protecting Syncaris Pacifica, a rare freshwater shrimp found only in 12 Northern California creeks.

Brookside students raised over $100,000 to fund their clean-up, restoration and publicity efforts by organizing fundraisers, writing to newspapers, working with corporate sponsors, contacting elected officials and making appearances on local talk shows. “At first I thought it was just some ugly little gray shrimp,” says one Shrimp Club member, “but I learned once you get attached to an animal you begin to discover a true beauty you had never seen.”

The California program’s resource guides are available in video or print for $12, or $20 for both, from the Department of Education, Bureau of Publications, Sales Unit, P.O. Box 271, Sacramento, CA 95812-0271.