This week's blog is guest written by Jennifer Keaton, vice president of congressional affairs.
In February, AZA joined with its fellow museum colleagues of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) in supporting Museums Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. For more than ten years, zoo and aquarium professionals have traveled to Washington, DC, to educate lawmakers about how museums benefit local communities, educate schoolchildren, and make significant contributions to the understanding of important issues such as climate change, biodiversity, and human culture.
This year, as in previous years, the museum advocates focused on important issues including funding for the Office of Museum Services, the affordability and accessibility of higher education for all students, and funding for federal historic preservation programs. The policy agenda also included two issues of particular interest to zoo and aquarium advocates: STEM education and wildlife conservation.
Millions of people in the U.S. of all ages and backgrounds learn about STEM each year by visiting museums, science centers, public gardens, zoos, and aquariums. Informal STEM education programs are critical to helping museums attract, inspire, and educate the current and future workforce. Education programs at AZA-accredited facilities provide essential learning opportunities, particularly about science, for schoolchildren in formal and informal settings. AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums educate more than 12 million students annually about wild animals, their habitats, and the ways in which the public can contribute to their conservation. Over the past ten years, AZA-accredited facilities also have trained more than 400,000 teachers, helping aquarium and zoo field trips and in-class education programs support science curricula at the state and local levels.
Two critical federal programs that provide grants for science education initiatives include the Environmental Literacy Grants and Bay Watershed Education and Training programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The funding provided by these programs helps to bring students closer to science by providing them with the opportunity to learn firsthand about our world’s marine resources. Through these grant programs, aquariums work closely with federal, state, and local partners on projects with long-lasting benefits not only for the students but also their communities.
Without programs like the NOAA Environmental Literacy Grants Program, the B-WET Program, and others, opportunities for engaging schoolchildren to learn about science will be lost and the ability of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to partner with federal agencies on education initiatives will be severely limited.
Zoo and aquarium advocates also talked to policymakers about wildlife conservation including the Multinational Species Conservation Funds (MSCF). This program supports public-private partnerships that conserve wild tigers, Asian and African elephants, rhinos, great apes, and marine turtles in their native habitats. Through the MSCF programs, the United States supplements the efforts of developing countries that are struggling to balance the needs of their human populations and endemic wildlife. MSCF programs help to sustain wildlife populations, address threats such as illegal poaching, reduce human-wildlife conflict, and protect essential habitat. By working with local communities, they also improve people's livelihoods, contribute to local and regional stability, and support U.S. security interests in impoverished regions. This federal program benefits AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums in their field conservation efforts and partnerships with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
On the same day that advocates were on Capitol Hill, legislation to reauthorize these important wildlife conservation funds passed the House of Representatives. This legislation also has cleared the Senate and is on its way to the president for his signature.
Zoos and aquariums share the same mission as other types of museums of preserving our world’s great treasures, educating the public about them, and contributing to the anation’s economic and cultural vitality. The nation's AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums offer millions of visitors each year the unique opportunity to learn about wildlife firsthand. They are leaders in science education and are bringing their visitors closer to nature through their education programs and public engagement.
Thank you to the AAM team for hosting this year’s Museums Advocacy Day, as well as the zoo and aquarium professionals whose time and effort make a difference for all AZA-accredited facilities.