Three years ago, I created a video featuring wildlife biologists corralling and banding American eiders around Petit Manan Island, part of Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. We used a video camera with mini digital video cassettes. I had to download the data to my laptop, edit the footage in one program, export it to a specific file format, and then use another program to copy it to a playable DVD.

Today, I can probably get the same footage — in high definition! — by using my point and shoot digital camera, or even the camera on my smart phone! But I will never forget the days in the field, making that video. I think we can pass a sense of wonder about the natural world onto young people by letting them use the media they know best.

A view from the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge. (USFWS)

Indeed, my inspiration now often comes from my work with young people.

Over the last few summers, I have worked with incredible students through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Career Discovery Internship Program, in partnership with the Student Conservation Association. All participants must submit a final project. Many choose to use multimedia and web-based resources. You can see several examples on DOI’s Youth in the Great Outdoors website. From the writings, musings and presentations, I have learned valuable lessons about diversity, acceptance and personal challenges.

That’s why Conserving the Future features Giving the Land a Voice, a multimedia contest for youth ages 15-24. Participants may submit a poster, photograph, other still art; audio or video podcast; or essay, short story, poem, or similar media. Participants can choose their medium to answer the question: What kind of future do you want for America’s wildlife and wild lands?

We hope to feature the voices of youth across the country. We also hope the contest will generate public interest in the vision process; draw youth to this website, where they can learn more about the vision process and find other ways to participate; and reach groups who may not be familiar with the Refuge System.

Although only a handful of participants will be selected to attend the July 11-14 conference, all of the qualifying submissions will represent youth perspectives on the future of the Refuge System. We are not looking for state of the art multi-media presentations. Instead, we will evaluate the overall message, the final product’s cohesiveness, and the ability to address the question.

Submissions are due May 27. Full contest details can be found at

By Mao Lin, Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service