Élise Brown-Dussault

To the Yukon Bird Club,

My name is Élise Brown-Dussault. I am in my final year of the Northern Environmental and Conservation Science offered at Yukon University via the University of Alberta. One candid fact about me: it has only been two years since I discovered I really like birds. That said, a lot has changed in two years.

One night recently, my mind saturated with news – of wildfires, record heat, cruel injustices, a global pandemic – I covered my face with a pillow and asked no one: what is left to cling to in all this? So often it feels like the weight of the world, and the possibility of contributing a net positive, seems impossible to carry. I was surprised to feel an answer come back to me: the sadness you feel is an energy that you can use towards protecting something you love.

Learning the names and songs of birds has completely transformed the practice of walking. It seems to me that before, when in nature, I neither looked nor listened. It means something to me now, to commiserate with chickadees in the winter, to celebrate the coming of trumpeter swans in the spring, to hear explosions of song in early summer, and to see the ravens re-conquering Whitehorse in autumn after the seagulls have finally left town. It means something to go for a walk and look for familiar faces.

There are some practical things I do to advance the plight of birds. I have a Cornell membership. I buy their classes and challenge myself to improve my knowledge. Gaining confidence in my knowledge of birds helps me advance their plight by collecting accurate data at work. Collecting accurate data helps to produce knowledge (in this case, about Yukon wetlands) that can help to protect declining species. It is a way of bearing witness to what’s there and what’s changing, even if it’s through the convoluted lens of science.

There are less ‘practical’ things I do to advance the plight of birds. Like any new convert, I am always looking for other people to brainwash. I incorporate it into lesson planning when I tutor. I interrupt my friends to make them observe the red-breasted merganser through my binoculars. I force fun facts upon unsuspecting loved ones (who did not know male Wood ducks went ‘zip, zip’). It is critical to support birds with scientific evidence, for it translates to policy, but I think that garnering care and love for birds is equally crucial – and that it can only be achieved by speaking and acting from the heart. In the ceremonial disentanglement of an owl pellet, or in the sharing of an anecdote.

I try to advance the plight of birds by reminding myself and others that caring for the environment is not a burden: it is a gift.

Thank you for considering my application, and for all the work you do in caring and advocating for birds.

Élise Brown-Dussault