Co-founder of Environmental Group Graduated from Westfield High School
Paul Alan Ninneman
Marquette County Tribune Reporter and Photographer
"In 2018, the world received a groundbreaking scientific report from 91 leading climate scientists who analyzed more than 6,000 studies. They discerned that we have a minimum of 12 years to limit the awful effects of a +1.5° C increase compared to pre-industrial levels on the planet. This monumental task can often be lost on the average person going about their daily life, but Mercedes Siegle-Gaither’s organization ConserVANtion sets an example to spread environmental conservatism throughout the country saving the world one bottle at a time.
Her early life helped shape how she became so invested in the environment. During her time at Westfield High School, she was a very busy young woman, being a part of student council, the National Honor Society, forensics, and several other organizations, as well as multiple sports. However, she always had time for play and exploration in the outdoors. Siegle-Gaither said, “I grew up camping with my parents at the Lake in the Woods and gardening with my grandma…It really helped me develop, growing up fully immersed in nature. Those formative years gave me a lot of perspective with my current ventures.” She contributed her exposure to the forests and outdoor activities as the catalyst to developing strong problem-solving skills at a young age and humbled herself as only a small, yet crucial, piece to the environment.
When she progressed to college, she went to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and received a B.S. degree in Biology with a minor in Science & Health. She went on to graduate school and got her M.S. degree in Forestry in Mississippi State University. She also studied abroad in Belize and Australia on various topics. Her resume is loaded with research experience, awards, presentations and nonprofit experiences, along with her work. Right now, her career has her at the US Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture as the Urban & Community Forestry Coordinator, in St. Croix, VI where she works on the Urban & Community Forestry Grant Program.
ConserVANtion co-founder Jordan McMahon has a similarly extensive background with a B.S. in Environment: Conservation Ecology & Wildlife Biology from the University of Michigan and a M.S. degree in Biological Sciences from Mississippi State University. He has done research on insect diversity and laboratory work. McMahon currently is contracted with the Bureau of Land Management in Colorado as a wildlife biologist, focusing on threatened and endangered species of hawks, falcons, eagles, bats, and owls.
ConserVANtion started out as just a Florida licensed 1983 VW “vanagon” and a couple of graduate students, Siegle-Gaither and Jordan McMahon. They wanted to reach out to people and show them that their actions had tangible effects on the world and to lift the veil of apathy that modern consumerism can often put people under, but weren’t sure how to start. Siegle-Gather described the mission as, “We want people to feel ownership of the earth, not just stay removed from it, living in a more technologically centered existence. It’s a challenge that allows us to develop a better sense of community and helps us meet those in the area.”
To their delight, the people they’ve met since then have been very supportive and willing to be a part of their mission. The first event that really set the stage for ConserVANtion was in Mississippi where 50 volunteers cut down invasive juniper trees harming native wildlife. These projects are meant to get people involved in their environment on an emotional level to help people connect and see the importance of nature.
ConserVANtion does so by using many different ways, including the hot button delivery method of social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are their main platforms they use to interact with people online, often referencing their blog where longer posts can be shared. The internet can reach a vast amount of people quickly and efficiently, but that being said, their favorite method of interaction is face-to-face. Siegle-Gather said, “We love talking to people in person, and we feel that building a connection to the environment and the natural world involves actually getting outside, getting dirty, and falling in love with the earth. Hands-on activities are our favorite way to get folks from the community out into nature to understand environmental concepts.”
She also mentioned that it is good for people to “unplug” from screens, social media, and the stresses of modern life to return to a simpler form of life. These in-person meetings happen all over the country from Wisconsin to Utah.
An area of concern that’s manifested over the past month or so is the prolonged government shutdown, which they have been referencing on their blog and social media. Part of the people getting laid off are those who monitor sensitive wildlife species and water quality. Additionally, wildlife managers being off work allows for the possibility for oil and gas contracts to be approved before selling them on public land. She continued, “This is also an issue because the public is unable to view the proposals with the pertinent information on impacts to wildlife resources, for example.” McMahon recently traveled around to Utah National Parks to pick up the rapidly accumulating trash that has been neglected due to the shutdown causing furloughs. He drove 500 miles to visit Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef National Parks and got to work.
Often they are asked what individual people can do to minimize their impact on the environment and Siegle-Gather had several recommendations, the first of which is to stay away from plastic, especially if only using a plastic item one time, like stirring coffee with a straw and then throwing it away or using plastic grocery bags. Buying in bulk is also a great way to be more environmentally conscious, as well as carpooling or reducing fossil fuel consumption in any way possible. An out of the box method of reducing that carbon footprint is to not buy tropical fruits where they would not grow in the winter. These fruits travel a long distance and require a large environmental cost due to transportation. Many around here will be pleased to know that if you are heavy into meat eating, hunting your own food is a boost to mitigating your carbon footprint. An investment in solar panels for your house is also a great way to invest in your home and the environment.
Siegle-Gather wanted to remind everyone to stay positive. There are some amazing places left on earth that still need protecting. “Take a walk outside, notice the little things. Think about how those little insects or plants are going about their lives and remember that YOU are a part of the earth as well. Take pride in educating others about how they can help out. Leave every place better than when you found it.”
If you want to follow them on online, their accounts are:
and their blog is at: https://www.conservantion.org/"