WANT TO PUT GRINS on the faces of your Scouts, Venturers or Sea Scouts? Turn them loose digging in soil and making good things happen. As they discover the fun they can have while caring for the environment, there’s no stopping what they can achieve.
Today’s Earth-friendly service projects continue a tradition begun in 1911 when Conservation was among the Boy Scouts of America’s first merit badges. Requirements focused on identifying trees and wild animals, understanding how forests and farmlands could be used, and talking about ways to reduce the waste of coal, which, at that time, was the nation’s primary fuel source.
The emphasis soon changed from discussing conservation to taking action. Scouts eager to earn the award presented evidence of fighting a forest fire, checking erosion, planting trees, restocking streams with fish, feeding birds in winter, or stopping stream and river pollution.
By 1952, the Conservation merit badge requirements had been absorbed by other environmental merit badges, and it was discontinued. Two years later, President Dwight Eisenhower asked the BSA to launch a national Good Turn to help the environment.
“The wise and judicious use of our natural resources is of paramount concern to all Americans,” he explained. “It would be particularly fitting if the Boy Scouts would undertake by concerted action to arouse public recognition of the need for adequate protection and wise management of our soil, mineral, forest, grassland and wildlife resources.”
That first Conservation Good Turn harnessed the energies of Scouts everywhere. They planted 6.2 million trees, set out thousands of bird-nesting boxes, made countless displays and presentations, and distributed 3.6 million copies of posters reminding the public to care for natural resources.
Since the 1950s, required service hours for rank advancement have encouraged Scouts to engage in efforts benefiting the environment. Thousands of Eagle projects have given Scouts confidence in their abilities to make a difference.
Helping Scouts develop strong conservation habits begins with something the BSA does best: getting young people outdoors where they can explore the environment first hand.
From there, hands-on projects can seal the stewardship deal. Cub Scouts who plant flowers or a tree and then return to water, weed and see how their plants have grown are learning that their actions have results. Troops, Venturing crews or Sea Scout ships maintaining trails, restoring overused campsites, repairing eroded meadows and stream banks, and developing habitats for wildlife are realizing the long-term value of giving back to the places they love.
Follow these pointers to help your Scouts make the most of conservation opportunities:
GET INPUT. Ensure projects have value by exploring possibilities with subject matter experts. Invite gardeners, community tree specialists, agency land managers and others to visit Scout meetings to share what they do and explain some of the challenges to the areas they oversee. They’ll get acquainted with your Scout unit, too, and learn what they are capable
of doing. Together, you can match projects to the expectations of Scouts, Venturers or Sea Scouts, and of those who understand the land.
PLAN AHEAD. Involve Scouts in planning projects and taking the lead in the field. Guide them as they figure out what tools and materials they’ll need and how projects will proceed. While there are plenty of short-term projects, consider including conservation as a feature in the annual program planning of your pack, troop, crew or ship.
MAKE IT REAL. Stewardship can be full of action. Ideal projects enable Scouts to learn new skills, practice leadership and work together safely.
KEEP IT ENJOYABLE. Conservation efforts sometimes involve lots of repetition. Energize activities with short-term goals and the ultimate aim of good work done well. Consider combining service projects with campouts, hikes, area explorations and other activities that add variety to the experience.
PITCH IN. Set a good example by rolling up your sleeves and doing your part. Scouts will respond to cheerful support, and you can have a good time hauling, trimming, excavating and planting together.
CELEBRATE SUCCESS. Scouting further honors conservation achievements with fulfilled requirements for rank advancement, merit badges and many other environmentally oriented awards. Scouts who want to make a greater commitment to stewardship can set their sights on completing Hornaday Awards, the pinnacle of BSA conservation recognition.
Want to learn more? The new edition of The Conservation Handbook is designed for Scouts, adult leaders and the land managers of areas where Scouts can be of service. Chapters walk readers through steps to connect with one another to plan and carry out worthwhile projects. The Conservation Handbook is available now at Scout shops and from scoutstuff.org.
Robert Birkby is author of three editions of The Boy Scout Handbook, two editions of the BSA’s Fieldbook and the newest edition of the Conservation Handbook. Find him at robertbirkby.com