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Urban Youth Trailblazing to Protect Florida’s Fire Dependent Habitats

Students from New York City join Florida's restoration team from July 7 - August 1 to learn firsthand how fire is an essential part of habitat restoration.

Orlando, Florida | June 23, 2014

High schools students from New York City are heading south this July to join The Nature Conservancy restoration team at the Disney Wilderness Preserve in Kissimmee, Florida.

For the third year in a row, The Nature Conservancy’s Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) Program is teaching urban youth about the benefits of fire for Florida’s pine forests, and training them on how to safely execute prescribed burns – under the astute supervision of fire experts.

Why fire? Long ago, when Florida was free of roads and houses, fire was a normal occurrence. Bolts of lightning would start a fire that meandered along, stopping at rivers or wetlands. Many native plants and animals still require regular fire for survival – just as they need rain and sunshine.

During their summer jobs on the the Conservancy's 11,500-acre Disney Wilderness Preserve, LEAF students will work alongside fire experts to learn how controlled fires replicate Florida’s natural fire cycle for more than 1,000 species of plants and animals that call the preserve home.

Students will also help to clear out brush and small trees from forest areas, remove invasive plant species that are choking the lands, and monitor the threatened Florida scrub-jay.

“The LEAF program invites urban kids to step out of their comfort zone,” said Daniel Cole, LEAF Coordinator in Florida. “In just four weeks, these students develop a deep connection with nature and a serious interest in pursuing environmental careers.”

For 20 years, The Nature Conservancy’s LEAF Program has helped urban youth discover nature and empowered them to practice environmental science through real world jobs. These students become some of the most compelling spokespeople for the planet and go on to pursue careers in the sciences at rates which are five times higher than the national average.

“Providing students with the opportunity to engage in actual conservation projects on preserves such as the Disney Wilderness Preserve is a great complement to their classroom learning and gives them hands-on experience they may not otherwise get during the school year,” said Brigitte Griswold, Director of Youth Programs for The Nature Conservancy.

To learn more about the students that LEAF serves, visit


The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at

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