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‘Making those connections is what it’s all about’

County’s wildlife in winter program features naturalist

CHRISTINE HARKINSON/The Sun: Jennifer Bulava, naturalist for the Burlington County Parks System, is shown with examples of goldenrod galls and oak galls she brought for residents to see during her presentation at the county’s Wildlife in Winter program on Jan. 17.

The Burlington County Parks System held its Wildlife in Winter program at the county’s Lyceum of History and Natural Sciences on Jan. 17.

Presented by naturalist Jennifer Bulava, the program enabled residents to learn about the special adaptations of local wildlife and plants in winter, and discover the strategies that insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and fish use to survive the season.

Bulava has been a naturalist for the parks department since 2008 but has worked for the county for 22 years.

“I’ve been able to experience the creation of planning the parks, and then actually still be here to conduct the first programs,” she noted. “I developed the environmental education programming from scratch, so that was very exciting, to be able to be at the beginning of this entire process and just watch it unfold and grow as the years went on.”

Bulava is impressed with how far the parks system has come, and one of the most rewarding aspects for her is seeing residents evolve through programs offered.

“All of the children that have grown up through my summer youth programs, it’s a very unique experience to watch them actually grow up through all the different levels of the program, to go on and graduate and then hopefully come back and share what they’ve been doing,” the naturalist said. “Some of them even wind up working as seasonals for me.”

Bulava has always had a love for the outdoors. She shared what inspired her to educate others on the importance of natural resources.

“I think it was around seventh grade that we were just introduced to terms like ‘global warming’ and ‘extinction events,’ and I started becoming more aware of environmental issues at that time,” Bulava recalled. 

“I knew I wanted to do something to help in some way the environment.”

After a summer spent researching endangered animals, Bulava discovered a true passion for teaching others.

“What I found out in those four months of doing that work was that in meeting with the people out on the site, I was able to educate them on why these birds were endangered, and it seemed like I could have a bigger impact teaching people about them than writing about them,” she observed. 

“That’s where I changed my idea of what maybe I wanted to do with my schooling and knowledge.”

Bulava enjoys seeing people, specifically students, connect with park programs and gain new perspectives.

“ … If you’re just talking to them and they walk away and they don’t think about it, then you didn’t do your job,” she maintained. “You know you’re successful if they have those lightbulb ‘aha’ moments, then you did it. You did it right and you got through.”

“You never know: It could just be one experience in the field, and it can change the direction of their life forever.”

Bulava shared what she hopes people took away from Wildlife in Winter.

“The wintertime isn’t boring,” she said. “There’s a lot going on. It’s just a matter of understanding where animals are, what they’re doing, how they’re surviving and making sure that we do our best not to disrupt that natural occurrence.”

For information on additional park programs, visit https://www.co.burlington.nj.us/DocumentCenter/View/16807/2022_23_Winter_Program_Guide_11_28.

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