Leader for Nature: Sarah Baillie, Population and Sustainability Organizer
When a pelican was blown off course by a monsoon and ended up in the desert environment of southern Arizona, Sarah Baillie was part of the team that helped it get back on track. After the pelican received care and was rehabbed by appropriately trained professionals, Sarah gave it a four-hour ride in a car carrier meant for a dog to a lake to be released.
“It was great—it was super chill in the car for four hours, which was hilarious,” Sarah said of her pelican passenger with a laugh.
The pelican Sarah Baillie helped release. (Photo provided by Sarah Baillie)
They released it at a lake in Prescott, Arizona with the help of workers for the Audubon Society and after having tracked a flock of other white pelicans that had headed inland to that lake to help give their rescued pelican a group to tag along with.
This is just one example of the lengths Sarah has gone to in her mission to help protect wildlife and the natural environment. This inspiring ambition that’s always accompanied by a positive attitude is why Sarah is being featured as this month’s Leader for Nature.
A Childhood Appreciation of the Wild
“I always liked animals growing up,” Sarah said, adding she looked forward to going to the zoo near her hometown in a suburb of Philadelphia. She enjoyed going on nature hikes with her grandmother and visiting beautiful Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. This historic park features a stream that runs through it, paths with skyline views, and a Horticulture Center with a reflective pond.
Sarah said she especially enjoyed the park’s small waterfalls and feeding geese and ducks in various areas.
Her explorations in the outdoors and interactions with animals inspired her to get a Bachelor’s in Wildlife Conservation from the University of Delaware. She then continued her studies and received a Master's in Biology from the University of Villanova.
“For the masters in biology I studied bird behavior and learned a lot of lab and field techniques,” Sarah said. The job she had after receiving this degree was part-time and involved preparing labs for Intro to Biology classes at the University of Arizona.
Since this job was part-time, she also decided to work for several nonprofits including the Tucson Wildlife Center, which is how she was able to help the lost pelican found in Arizona. This organization worked to rescue and rehabilitate Arizona wildlife.
“So we’d get in orphaned and injured or sick animals, feed them, just kind of make sure they were getting medicine and everything they needed to feel better before releasing them back into the wild.”
Sarah Baillie working for the Tucson Wildlife Center. (Photo provided by Sarah Baillie)
This wildlife included a pair of Great Horned Owls that were residents at the center after falling out of their nests when they were fledglings. The way their wings healed prevented the adult raptors from being able to fly quietly enough to successfully hunt in the wild, Sarah explained.
Sarah said her job often involved transporting some of these incredible resident raptors to outreach events focused on educating the public about the importance of their conservation.
While working for the wildlife nonprofit in Arizona, Sarah also interacted with a few other types of birds, such as a kestrel that she got to feed. She also assisted in helping some rescued animals with procedures such as X-rays.
Continued Education for Conservation
In addition to working for the Tucson Wildlife Center, Sarah also worked for a ranch that did animal therapy and stayed busy with some volunteer work for the Humane Society.
Although working for nonprofits such as the Tucson Wildlife Center wasn’t always glamorous, Sarah said that she appreciated how it felt important and fulfilling.
“I really liked nonprofit work and I wanted a job that I could feel passionate about,” Sarah said. “So I realized it would be a good idea to get a more formal training in non-profits.”
To understand more of the ins and outs of nonprofits, Sarah decided to go back to school to get her Master’s of Public Administration (MPA) from the University of Arizona. She also said continuing to work for the University allowed her to get a discounted tuition to complete this program.
A Clever Conservation Technique
While Sarah was in grad school getting her master’s in biology at Villanova University, a friend one day introduced her to an inventive initiative for wildlife conservation that would later play a major role in her career.
The friend gave her a condom in a package that showed an illustration of an endangered species. The package also had a punny phrase encouraging safe sex as a way to help species, and to help start a conversation about how human population growth negatively affects endangered species. The phrase was specifically, “Wear a condom now … save the spotted owl.”
“I was like oh, this is a hilarious, cool idea—I like this,” she said.
The condom was part of a program through the Center for Biological Diversity, which is a nonprofit that works to protect species faced with extinction to not only save the existence of these animals, but also the environments vital to people that they are a part of. The Center does this through not only creative media campaigns, but also legal activism, grassroots initiatives, and a focus on protecting public lands which endangered species need for survival.
As fate would have it, around 3 years later while Sarah was in Tucson working on getting her Master’s in Public Administration, she saw an internship for the Center for Biological Diversity become available—one that specifically involved coordinating the Endangered Species Condoms project.
She interned for about six months and then was hired part-time while she finished her masters. Once she completed her master's, the Center for Biological Diversity brought her on full time.
Sarah’s full title today is Population and Sustainability Organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity, and this job comes with a lot of responsibility for this fun and memorable way for the Center to educate others about its important work saving species from extinction.
Sarah trains volunteers who give the condoms out in their communities.
The clever phrases featured on the condom wrappers along with adorable animal illustrations include, “Before it gets hotter, remember the Sea Otter,” and “When you are feeling tender, think of the hellbender.”
Sarah also launched an outreach program called “Pillow Talk” for the Center for Biological Diversity that involves working specifically with zoos and museums. It also includes recruiting and training volunteers to attend adult-only events that the zoos and museums host to distribute the condoms and lead engaging activities that help people understand how the overconsumption of growing human populations is fueling the world’s sixth mass extinction crisis.
Sarah has expanded the work of this role to include writing op-eds about the impacts of overconsuming human populations on wildlife and recruiting new partners in the project.
“We want folks to be more aware of the impacts human population growth can have,” Sarah said. She explained this not only includes helping people understand the importance of not adding the pressure of more people to threats endangered species face, but also empowering others to get involved in initiatives that can have benefits for society and the planet, such as comprehensive sex education and better access to contraceptives.
Sarah explained she also works with organizations that promote women’s reproductive rights such as Planned Parenthood.
“If people have the education and family planning resources they need to plan their families the way they want, they tend to delay having kids, they have fewer, they spread them out,” she said. “These right-based solutions can help create more resilient communities and benefit the environment.”
What You Can Do: Rethink Consumption
There are plenty of other efforts in addition to family planning that Sarah encourages those concerned about the extinction crisis to take to help prevent species from disappearing.
One is to shift to a more plant-based diet which results in lower carbon emissions and less habitat degradation. She also said consuming more consciously is an important way to reduce one’s impact on the natural environment. She likes to get creative with ways to avoid purchasing brand new items, like buying secondhand items or revamping and repurposing things..
For instance, Sarah was in need of a desk recently and instead of buying a new one from the store, she simply picked one up from a curb that was going to be thrown away and gave it a fresh look with some peel and stick wallpaper.
In looking at specific areas of consumption, Sarah also spearheaded a guide for the Center for Biological Diversity to help couples plan more wildlife-friendly weddings.
“We thought about doing weddings because that is a big event that involves a lot of consumption—there is a lot of waste that results from weddings,” Sarah said. She also said it goes well with the family planning encouraged by the Endangered Species Condoms project since the question of having children usually follows weddings.
The idea stemmed from Sarah’s goal to make her own wedding more sustainable.
“I was already doing the research for myself, so it worked out nicely that I could use it for the guide too,” Sarah said.
Sarah says she wanted to create a resource that was more than a listicle but not too overwhelming. She also found that sometimes some of the decisions were not only more sustainable but also easier. These include having a wedding and reception at the same location to minimize transportation coordination and emissions.
While the environmental benefits from these individual choices for one wedding may seem minuscule, Sarah said that when she and others involved in the program crunched the numbers, they made more of an impact than expected. She said this was particularly true of having a plant-based menu for the wedding dinner. Having a plant-based menu for a wedding with 150 people can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent, save the lives of up to 50 farm animals, and save about 55,000 gallons of water, according to a helpful infographic that is part of the Wildlife Friendly Wedding guide.
“There are very few times in our lives that we get to decide what over 100 people have for dinner, and that can add up,” Sarah said.
Sarah donned a beautiful intricately-beaded second-hand wedding dress for her own wedding. She encourages considering alternatives to brand new items and other ways to reduce wedding consumption as not only money-savers but also ways to share the idea and one’s personal values.
You can learn more about Sarah’s work by watching this great interview with the Wedding Report and reading her article—which includes an amazing photo of a “fish mobile” that provided part of the eco-friendly decorations at her own aquarium-venue wedding.
A Model for Perseverance
Sarah said while working for the Center for Biological Diversity and confronting issues of unsustainable population growth and overconsumption means it seems like there’s always another mountain to climb, she finds it rewarding to focus on all of the good the organization is doing.
“When you hear that we won a lawsuit or protected critical habitat for species, it is really exciting because there is no time to waste for any of it,” she said.
Sarah’s steadfast work to help create a better world in ways that utilize her organization, creativity, and spiritedness is why she is this month’s Leader for Nature. If you know of another person deserving of a profile praising their work to help the planet, please email me at email@example.com.