SYMBOLS HELP WILDLIFE
has a book that every state should have Tennessee State
Symbols by Rob Simbeck (University of Tennessee Press). By this
I mean every state has symbols that should be identified and discussed
the way Simbeck does those for Tennessee.
symbols have positive impacts, both direct and indirect, on wildlife
and the environment. With a little creative thinking in the classroom,
they can also offer civics lessons for schoolchildren.
about Tennessee state symbols includes great back stories about the
way each one was chosen. For example, the mockingbird was the winner
on a statewide ballot to select the state bird during a gubernatorial
election in 1933, beating the robin by fewer than 500 votes. A recount
was not required. For plant and animal state symbols, the author provides
extensive background information on the ecology of each species.
clearly the most common group of animals represented in each state.
Seven states even have two, the second one being a game bird. In addition
to having the mockingbird as its official songbird, Tennessee chose
the bobwhite for its game bird. Alabamas state bird is the northern
flicker, aka yellowhammer, with the wild turkey being the state game
bird. Alabama is the only state with a woodpecker as its state bird,
but turkeys are the officially recognized state game birds of South
Carolina, Massachusetts and Oklahoma.
half the states have a state reptile, which in Tennessee is the eastern
box turtle. An anecdotal aside in the account about Tennessees
selection of the box turtle is a telling one about political attitudes
and public support for native wildlife. The author recounts the story
of sixth-grader Heather Harrison, who became the champion for the box
turtle over protests by the head of the state Senate, who thought the
legislature should not be wasting time selecting a state reptile. He
asserted that elected representatives have more important things
to do, such as balancing the state budget.
story did not end there. The Tennessee Senates rejection of the
box turtle as the state reptile was only temporary. Thanks to Heather
Harrisons letters to politicians and her depiction of the box
turtle as an appealing creature, newspaper editorials and stories began
one in the Wall Street Journal, championed the box turtle. One
article even cited a bill in Alabama designating the Alabama red-bellied
turtle as a state symbol. Thanks to these efforts and to the
publics contention that recognizing native wildlife was, in fact,
an important job for state legislators Heathers campaign
for the box turtle was ultimately victorious.
such as wildflowers, mammals, reptiles and amphibians help make people
more aware and more appreciative of their states native wildlife.
Symbols bring attention to certain animals and plants, for example,
cave salamanders and passion flowers in Tennessee, that are otherwise
unlikely to be recognized by anyone except experts in the field. Highlighting
the existence and unique qualities of native wildlife in such a symbolic
way can often bring greater appreciation by the general public.
our state wildlife symbols across the country were initiated by schoolchildren,
and the process can have many pedagogical rewards. The book reveals
that one benefit of selecting wildlife symbols is that students can
become more informed about the legislative process in their state.
given is that of a high school class that involved surrounding communities
and selected the zebra swallowtail over the monarch as the official
Tennessee state butterfly. The teacher and students followed their initial
proposal and drafting of a bill as it went through House and Senate
committees, to voting on the floor, to signing by the governor.
time in legislative sessions devoted to designating state symbols may
seem like a frivolous exercise to some politicians. Not so. Increasing
public awareness of a states plant and animal diversity confers
long-term benefits on people and native wildlife alike.
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