Many American children under ten spend their free time watching TV and movies, playing video games, or participating in sports, but for siblings Carter (9 years old) and Olivia Ries (8) much of their time is devoted to saving the world’s imperiled species. The organization One More Generation (OMG) not only has a clever name (yes, it is meant to pun the common Oh-My-God acronym), but may have the two youngest founders of any environmental organization in the US.
“We started OMG because it hurt our hearts to know that there were so many animals in danger of becoming extinct,” Carter told mongabay.com. OMG, which is run with help from the Ries’ parents as well as an impressive list of conservation and wildlife experts, has taken on a number of local and international campaigns, including raising money for cheetahs, working against throw-away plastic bags, and taking action to change the US tradition of Rattlesnake Roundups where thousands of rattlesnakes are killed for a community festival.
Carter and Olivia Ries. Photo courtesy of OMG.
Recently the siblings attended a Rattlesnake Roundup in order to better understand what brings people to the festival. They found many kids their age in attendance.
“It is sad, but we also understand that most of them are not aware of the facts, and that most of their parents are also not aware of the damage they are doing by supporting the events. The organizers stage these events with rides for kids and games and food etc. all in an effort to draw families to the event,” says Olivia.
OMG is working with local legislators and other environmental groups to change the nature of the festival.
“We are asking them to change the event from a Roundup where they collect and kill off as many snakes as they can, to a Rattlesnake Festival were the species is celebrated for it’s value to our ecosystem, as opposed to being eradicated because of fear of the species,” says Carter.
According to Olivia the siblings are just starting on their journey to help save the world’s troubled wildlife: “I love all animals and someday my brother and I will have the world’s largest animal sanctuary. We want to create a place where all endangered species have an opportunity to survive and flourish. ”
INTERVIEW WITH CARTER AND OLIVIA RIES, FOUNDERS OF OMG
Mongabay: Why did the two of you decide to start One More Generation (OMG)?
Olivia as the organization hosted the “Bug Out Festival” at the Fernbank Museum in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of OMG.
Carter Ries: We started OMG because it hurt our hearts to know that there were so many animals in danger of becoming extinct. We have been adopting cheetah’s in South Africa for years now and when we learned that unless someone stood up to help them, there might not be any left in the wild by the time our kids are our age, my sister started to cry. We knew we had to do something.
Mongabay: Why should people care about endangered species?
Olivia Ries: There are far too many species about to become extinct, or that have already gone extinct. If we all don’t start helping them, we will loose many of God’s creatures and they cannot fight for themselves. Animals do so much for us humans, and humans need to do the same for them.
Mongabay: Will you tell our readers what the ‘rattlesnake roundup’ is and why you’re against it?
Carter Ries: Each year there are various communities in several states which have the Rattlesnake Roundups which annually kill an estimated 100,000 snakes just for the fun of it. When we heard about the events and found out that there were two communities in GA (Whigham and Claxton Counties) who still host these barbaric events, we knew we had to do something. We have tried repeatedly to get the two towns to meet with us so we could talk to them about changing the venue of the event but so far they are just ignoring us.
Mongabay: How do you feel knowing a lot of kids your age attend this event for fun?
Carter painting for a Silent Auction in his local community to help educate kids on the plight of endangered species. Photo courtesy of OMG.
Olivia Ries: It is sad but we also understand that most of them are not aware of the facts, and that most of their parents are also not aware of the damage they are doing by supporting the events. The organizers stage these events with rides for kids and games and food etc. all in an effort to draw families to the event. I am sure that if most of the families would stop and think about what is going to happen to all the snakes they capture, they would think twice about attending.
Mongabay: You recently visited a rattlesnake round up. What did you think?
Carter Ries: We actually attended the Whigham Rattlesnake Roundup two weeks ago so we will be better prepared to talk to the community about our proposal. We are asking them to change the event from a Roundup where they collect and kill off as many snakes as they can, to a Rattlesnake Festival were the species is celebrated for it’s value to our ecosystem, as opposed to being eradicated because of fear of the species. Did you know that you are 6-times more likely to be struck by lightning than to be bitten by a snake…
While we were at the roundup, a reporter was talking to my sister and dad. The reporter was at the event with her mother who was talking to our mom. Our mom asked her what she thought about the event and the lady said she did not have any feelings either way, she said that she tried not to think about what happens to the snakes after the event. She continued by saying that she did not have a snake problem on her property; she had a rat problem. She said they were everywhere, at which point my mom asked her why she thought there were so many rats. The lady replied she had no idea, but that she had noticed the rats have been getting more and more of a problem for them over the past few years. My mom then asked her if she thought the Rattlesnake Roundups had anything to do with the over population of rats…. after thinking for a few minutes, she replied, “wow, I never thought about that”.
A lack of thinking the situation through is what allows these events to continue… until it’s too late. This year’s event at Whigham only produced 82 snakes. That is apparently an over 50% reduction from last years total and by far the least amount of snakes captured in their 50-year history. Snake hunters are having to resort to hunting rattlesnakes in neighboring states just to supply the demand set by the organizers for fear that a lack of snakes will affect turnout. This proves that these senseless events are depleting the inventory of snakes in our environment which explains the overabundance for rodents.
Mongabay: What has OMG done to change these events?
Carter and Olivia with their Anti-Whaling signs as they supported the organization Sea Shepard during their Anti-Whaling campaign in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo courtesy of OMG.
Olivia Ries: We contacted our Governor, we met with our State Legislator, we met with the head of the GA DNR (Department of Natural Resources) all in an attempt to raise awareness to these events and to ask for help stopping the events. So far my brother and I collected over 1,200 signatures from local GA residents who agree that these events need to stop. We have already delivered the signed petitions to our State Legislator. We are working with the folks at the CBD (Center for Biological Diversity out of Arizona) and with a local group P.A.L.S. (Preserving All Living Species) on drafting Legislative Language changes to the current GA DNR regulations in an effort to find a solution which will prevent these events from continuing in their current form.
Mongabay: You’re also working on a campaign on plastic bags. Why should people stop using disposable plastic bags?
Carter Ries: Did you know that each adult uses about 500-single use shopping bags per year? That equates out to over 1-million singles use shopping bags being consumed in America every minute. That’s right, every minute. Plastic bags stay in our landfills for hundreds of years without breaking down. Many of these bags end up in our streams and oceans where animals like fish, birds, and sea turtles eat them because they think it is food. Sea turtles love eating jelly fish and plastic bags in the water look like jelly fish so they eat them and die. Sea birds eat them, as well, which blocks their digestive tract causing them to actually starve to death.
We want our community and even state to be the first in the Southeast to enforce a Plastic Bag Fee program, which would charge anyone who wants to insist on accepting the free bags with a .05-cent fee. The funds would be used to help the communities create better recycling program along with various stream/river/beach and community cleanup programs etc.
Mongabay: What animal would you most like to see in the wild?
Carter and Olivia load up supplies collected for the Marine Mammal & Sea Turtle Rescue Center in New Orleans as they head down to help during the Gulf Oil Spill. Photo courtesy of OMG.
Olivia Ries: I love all animals and someday my brother and I will have the world’s largest animal sanctuary. We want to create a place where all endangered species have an opportunity to survive and flourish. We will fight to have large portions of our oceans protected from pollution so our marine life can survive, large land areas the many endangered land animals can call their home, and of course we would have lots of educational programs around the world to make sure all kids everywhere are taught to help make a difference.
Carter Ries: I love cheetahs and snow leopards, but I too want to save as many species as we can. We meet so many kids who agree with what we are doing and they all say how they too want to get involved. We love our company 😉
Mongabay: What advice would you give kids who like yourself are interested in conserving endangered species, but are not sure how to start?
Carter Ries: You need to start by telling your parents how you really feel. Tell every adult in your family and at school about your dreams. Tell them all and tell them over and over, eventually they will hear you and reach out to help you. It seemed impossible for us when we first sat down to try and create our company, but as our mom always told us, you just take one step at a time and before you know it, you’re on your way.
I know that sounds simple, but the reality is that it is not. If anyone wants advice, they can always email us. I am sure our parents would gladly give them pointers. We are always looking for kids to help us raise funds for the different projects we are working on. Anyone can coordinate a bake-sale at their local school. We can put them in-touch with a Bag company who offers reusable shopping bags, which can be at any fundraiser etc. We have lots of ideas. They just need to ask and we will gladly help.
We also have T-shirts and coffee mugs available on our website. We are just adding a stainless steel water bottle and some reusable bags as well. 100% of the proceeds go to helping save endangered species and to helping clean up our environment.
(02/16/2010) Anyone who says a kid can’t change the world hasn’t met Spencer Tait. At the age of five Spencer had his first encounter with the Congo’s elusive okapi at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Spencer—now 12 years old—describes that encounter as ‘love at first sight’. He explains that while the okapi “looks like a mix between a zebra, horse, and giraffe […] it’s really only related to the giraffe.” Seeing the okapi at the museum led Spencer not only to learn all about the okapi, but also to find out what was threatening the animal’s survival, including the long civil conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the okapi’s home. Most kids—and adults too—would probably leave it at that, but not Spencer.