Southern Utah University invited Melissa Halvorsen from HawkWatch International for the third Ask. Ponder. Educate. [X]. event of the semester on Thursday, Sept. 30.
HawkWatch International focuses on conserving the environment through education and research on birds of prey as indicators of ecosystem health. Halvorsen is the education and outreach director for the organization, hoping to spark awareness on what anyone can do to help the environment.
Halvorsen started her speech with the history of Rachel Carson, a wildlife revolutionary in the 1960s, whose best-selling book “Silent Spring,” sparked discussion about a harmful yet popular chemical at the time.
Later, the chemical was either banned or heavily regulated in several countries because of Carson’s book and research on declining peregrine falcon populations.
“This shows us that humans made a problem, but then humans were the ones who solved it,” Halvorsen said. “This could not have happened if the general public’s opinion and attitude had not swung toward conservation and preservation of a species.”
Stories like this are relevant because it is happening right now in western Utah. The golden eagle population is declining due to climate change.
Halvorsen gave a crash course on the ecosystem. Sagebrush is an essential plant with a diverse food web, but it is slowly disappearing because of wildfires caused by climate change. In its place, cheatgrass, an invasive and inferior plant, is growing.
“We have to come together,” Halvorsen said. “The most powerful tool we have is not our dollar, but our voice.”
Local authorities are a great place to start. Halvorsen explained that nothing is going to change unless enough people are willing to speak out and convince policymakers to make changes that will preserve the environment.
Halvorsen stated that compassion is needed to save our environment and “when our raptors are healthy, so are we.”
After the event, students were able to take pictures with two birds brought by HawkWatch International. Halvorsen wore a mask while holding the birds and advised students to do the same when meeting them.
A podcast featuring a Q&A with Halvorsen, along with other event information, can be found on the A.P.E.X. website.
Article by Addie Horsley
Photos by Katie Englert