In 2005 Naturalist David Mizejewski hosted the Animal Planet series, “Backyard Habitat,” showing viewers how to create a yard perfect for local flora and fauna. The series was Mizejewski’s launch into the public eye introducing the media spokesperson for the National Wildlife Federation to a new audience.
One member of his personal network took note of Mizejewski’s newfound fame and impact on conservation and nominated him to Out magazine’s Out 100 list, a compilation of the year’s most impactful and influential LGBTQIA+ people.
“I knew I had a choice to make,” Mizejewski said. “Accept the honor and be fully visible in both my personal and professional life or decline and stay partially in the closet out of fear.”
“Needless to say, I chose to live as my authentic self everywhere and haven’t looked back.”
Making waves in conservation for LGBTQIA+ people
When Mizejewski started at the National Wildlife Federation in 2000, he wasn’t out. Even after he started to come out to his personal network, he was cautious of being out at work.
“As a cisgender gay man, it was easy to fly under the radar at work and keep my personal life private,” Mizejewski said.
Now Mizejewski says his identity as a gay man and as a conservationist are “inseparable parts of who I am.”
At the National Wildlife Federation, Mizejewski formed and currently co-chairs the LGBTQIA+ Employee Resource Group and is proud of the federation’s commitment to equity and justice. But he acknowledges the conservation world still has steps to take in diversity and inclusion.
“We still have work to do — especially to protect and support trans, nonbinary and other gender diverse folk who are currently targets of aggressive political and physical violence — but I’m proud to help embody the truth that we’ll be most successful in our conservation work when we bring people together, diversify the people speaking up for wildlife and support the interdependent needs of both people and wildlife,” Mizejewski said.
Inclusivity relates back to how we can help wildlife Mizejewski said.
“We as conservationists are only going to be successful in our work to protect and restore wildlife and wild places when we involve everyone,” Mizejewski said.
As a naturalist and media spokesperson, Mizejewski is a role model for LGBTQIA+ youth, creating representation in the conservation space.
“I believe that being visible (when it’s safe to do so) is the first step in understanding and acceptance and that it can literally save lives,” Mizejewski said.
Mizejewski’s career at the National Wildlife Federation
Mizejewski’s work keeps him in the public eye, teaching people about the natural world and inspiring them to be involved in wildlife conservation. He’s hosted shows on Animal Planet and NatGeo WILD and has appeared on The Today Show, Conan, the Wendy Williams Show, Inside Edition, CNN, HGTV, History Channel and NPR.
This year, Mizejewski also appeared as a guest host on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom video, “Crossing Cougar Country.”
His love of wildlife began in childhood as he explored nature in his New Jersey neighborhood. He then attended Emory University and soon began a career in conservation.
In 2005, Mizejewski was part of Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders, an intensive two-year training and mentoring program for up-and-coming conservation leaders. Today, he serves on its advisory board.
Mizejewski’s career at the National Wildlife Federation began with managing the Garden for Wildlife program which encourages people to create a space that supports birds, bees and other backyard wildlife.
“It’s as simple as planting native plants that wildlife relies upon and provide natural sources of food, cover and places to raise young, offering a clean water source, and committing to maintain that garden space naturally without the use of chemicals or invasive plants,” Mizejewski said.
How to help protect wildlife
Learning how to grow a wildlife garden is just one way to help make the world a better place for wildlife. Below are some other ways Mizejewski says you can help wildlife and wild spaces.
- Critter-proof your home. Don’t want wildlife to come inside your home? Put screens in windows and seal crevices around your roof and foundation.
- Protect your prized plants. In your backyard, use fencing to protect vegetable gardens from animals, such as deer.
- Don’t make friends with wildlife. Never put out bowls of food for animals, such as raccoons, foxes or opossums. This makes these animals lose their natural fear of people and creates a potentially dangerous situation that can result in malnutrition and the death of the animal in the long run.
- Ask policymakers to pass proactive legislation. Wildlife in urban, as well as rural areas need safe spaces. “We need to address climate change, ensure existing safeguards for wildlife remain in place and pass legislation to proactively help wildlife before they get the point of being at risk for extinction,” Mizejewski said.
- Make conservation your career. If you’re interested in conservation, consider making a career out of it! Mizejewski says you don’t have to pursue a degree in biology or ecology to help wildlife. Conservation organizations rely on professionals with an array of skill sets, including marketing, web development, fundraising and education.
By bringing together people of all backgrounds, we can extend the reach of conservation efforts to do the most good for wildlife and wild places. Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom looks forward to the work Mizejewski, the National Wildlife Federation and others in conservation are doing to create a welcoming environment for everyone.