A local teenager is receiving international accolades for her wildlife conservation efforts.
Taegen Yardley is one of 16 teens from around the world who will receive the Young Eco-Hero Award from Action by Nature, an international nonprofit organization based in San Francisco that encourages young people to preserve and conserve environmental resources.
The 16-year-old Stowe High School junior took first place in the ages 13-to-16 category for her efforts to end the global ivory trade.
The awards will be handed out at a ceremony later this month in San Francisco, and while she won’t be there — she will offer a recorded speech instead — she has been traveling for years to spread her message.
Last weekend, she was in Washington, D.C., to address a meeting of the International Conservation Chiefs Academy, an organization of 40 conservation law enforcement agencies around the world, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“For the past three or four years now, I have been making a speech there and have been able to speak with these enforcement officers who are literally on the front lines,” Yardley said. “I cannot imagine what they go through every single day. It is such a dangerous job.”
While only 16 years old, Yardley has years of activism under her belt.
“It first started in 2012, when I had a speaker come into my class who was a wildlife enforcement officer,” Yardley said. “He was talking about what he does in terms of protecting our planet’s wildlife and I was the one in the class who was into the presentation, super-excited about it and wanted to know more.
“I learned that education is the only way. If people are not educated on a subject, they’re not going to be able to do anything about it, and especially the youth, because we are the next generation of leaders.”
In 2016, Yardley testified before the Vermont Senate Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs on behalf of H.297, a bill that would have banned the sale of ivory, rhino horn and mammoth tusk in Vermont.
“I never thought that it was a problem here, and then I realized that we have so many antique dealers here,” Yardley said. “You can sell ivory if it is from before a certain date, but there are processes of making it look older, and even experts can’t tell, sometimes.”
The bill ultimately died in conference committee, but it did give Yardley a chance to make her voice heard.
“When I got up to testify, there was one senator who was just knitting and not looking up at any of the speakers, and when I got up to speak, she stopped, put her knitting down and listened to what I had to say,” Yardley recalled. “I think it was at that moment that I thought, ‘Oh wow, my voice has power as a youth. My generation has power.’”
To reach more people, Yardley has produced no fewer than four documentaries, with titles such as “Kids Stand for Wildlife” and “Turning the Tide: Young Voices for Healthy Oceans and Marine Life,” which can be seen on her Facebook page, facebook.com/aworldwithelephants.
Her documentaries have been screened on the floor of the United Nations during annual World Wildlife Events and she spoke on the floor in 2018 and 2019. Her documentaries have also been screened during events held by the U.S. Department of the Interior and National Geographic.
Internationally, her documentaries have been shown during the Wildlife Roundtable at the Global Environmental General Assembly in Vietnam, and in 2018, she discussed the power of youth in conservation during the Perfect World Foundation’s annual gala in Sweden. Also in 2018, she received INTERPOL’s Wildlife Crime Working Group Award for fostering partnerships in conservation from Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge.
In a few weeks, Yardley will return to Washington to address a new group of environmental conservation officers with the International Conservation Chiefs Academy.
“It’s always nice to see different perspectives, because these people are from all over the world, so different groups have different experiences with different animals,” she said.
After high school, Yardley plans to study either wildlife conservation or international relations, and while the two fields might be different, her goal is the same.
“We want our children to see this incredible wildlife that we are able to see, and not think about them the way we think about dinosaurs or mammoths in our history books,” she said. “I don’t want to have kids and say, ‘That’s an elephant. You’re never going to see one of these in your life, but this is what it looked like.’”