ECO HERO OF THE MONTH
Conservation and Program Manager,
The Riverwood Conservancy
Derek Stone was born and raised in Mississauga where he spent the better part of his youth in the forests, learning about wildlife by catching frogs, looking for birds, and seeking out wildlife to watch. A lifelong naturalist, Derek pursued a degree in environmental studies at Trent University, focusing on environmental policy and ecology before pursuing more hands-on opportunities in ecosystem management and ecological restoration. Derek now works as the Conservation and Program Manager at The Riverwood Conservancy in Mississauga – an environmental charity that focuses on nature education experiences for all, and on the conservation of natural areas in our urban environments.
Thank you, Derek, for your great contribution!
1. Aside from your official job title, how would you describe the work that you currently do?
My role specifically involves planning and implementing restoration projects for degraded environments, and protecting areas of ecological importance. It’s really only made possible by some pretty incredible efforts from community volunteers, who work with me to clean up our local environments and restore those ecosystems. This involves invasive species removal, tree-planting, and many other tasks that provide habitat for wildlife.
A big part of engaging our community is working with an amazing team to educate and encourage the public to learn about wildlife, take environmental matters seriously, and make nature a part of their everyday decision-making process.
2. How is your role and your work changing as a result of growing awareness and action in the response to the Climate Crisis?
It’s been reassuring to see the increased interest in environmental matters. More and more often, people are asking about climate change and wondering what they can do to make a difference. The average person seems more climate-fluent than in the past.
In my experience, that is never more keenly felt than in youth. Growing up with the ever-present anxiety around climate change as a real threat to their future, we’re often dealing with a lot of passion, and a lot of focus toward environmental matters in today’s youth. It’s encouraging to see, but it’s also difficult to see such a massive burden laid at their feet. Supporting youth will be an increasingly large part of making a positive change towards combatting environmental challenges.
3. Can you describe one or more events that led you to pursue this career path?
I’ve definitely had an interest in nature since I was very young. My dad took me on my first bird-watching trip at the age of 2 (we saw an owl!), and I remember catching frogs in a nearby creek with my friends throughout grade school (Okay, probably a lot longer than that), so I was lucky enough to be in a situation where I was able to engage with nature early and often.
I remember my 5th-grade teacher catching me reading “Audubon’s field guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America” instead of our assigned reading, and deciding that was probably okay.
I was fortunate to have people who supported my passion for wildlife, so it’s an absolute pleasure that I can pass that on in my current line of work! I always say that learning to identify animals helps us learn to identify with them. Encouraging empathy in our youth may be the most vital part of engaging them in environmental matters.
4. When has it been tough doing this work; and what have you done to carry on?
It’s a field that lends itself to a lot of talk about hope and despair. The increasing complexity of issues like climate change and biodiversity loss, coupled with stagnant environmental policy can make staying optimistic difficult. It can test your resolve, certainly.
I think it’s the little things that help me to continue to pursue change. Watching a wide-eyed child stepping foot in a forest for the first time in their life, or pointing out birds and bunnies that have made homes in areas our community has restored - that can all be a pretty motivational experience.
I really believe those little moments are ultimately going to save us. Seeing perspectives change, showing the effect nature can have on us, and makes people want to fight for a brighter future where nature plays a primary role.
5. What advice would you share with young environmentalists?
Learn something new from everyone you meet. Learn as much and as often as you can, and ask questions until it all makes sense. Then repeat.
But stand your ground. You have more to offer than people will tell you. Words like “unrealistic” and “overly-optimistic” should be ignored. There’s no magical age when you suddenly gain perspective on things. Make a difference now, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. Plant your feet, push forward, and keep pushing forward.
6. What do you feel is the most pressing issue facing our planet?
This is a tough one, but I think in the end it comes down to combatting apathy – the pervasive lack of caring or hopelessness about our environment and each other, which causes short-sighted decisions that damage both.
Keeping an eye on what is important at the local level, forging strong communities, and encouraging people to pursue a more harmonious future that we know is possible – is the foundation of making environmental change.
We are intrinsically linked with our environments – not separate. Learning to live together sustainably is a monumental task, but it’s not impossible. Approaching environmental issues with enthusiasm, creativity, and passion is increasingly important, but we have to keep people in the equation. People are absolutely the cause, and people will absolutely be the solution. There is cause for hope.
THE ECO HALL OF FAME