Wildlife biologist and conservationist Jeff Corwin is hosting a new television show, “Wildlife Nation,” which will focus on efforts to save endangered species across North America.
The weekly series will debut in a coveted Saturday morning time slot on Oct. 2 on ABC television.
Corwin, 54, grew up in Norwell and now lives with his wife and daughters in Marshfield. He has been hosting wildlife TV shows for nearly three decades on ABC, NBC, the Disney Channel, Animal Planet, and the Discovery Channel.
Corwin said his new show came to fruition, in part, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During the height of COVID I was forced to do a reality check,” said Corwin. “There would be no international adventures for a while — no African lions, no Amazon anacondas. The world that had sustained me in television had imploded because of the inability to travel. Exotic travel is going to be in hibernation for quite a while.”
Corwin said he wanted to do a show that featured wildlife conservation, with a strong science component.
“I wanted to take viewers on a roller coaster ride through nature, on an amazing adventure,” said Corwin. “For me, it’s a dream series.”
Corwin said he wants to empower his audience to be better stewards of the environment, and to inspire young people to think about science: Protecting the natural heritage of the United States, and maybe even having a career in conservation.
Once the Defenders of Wildlife — a conservation organization that targets North America, agreed to be the presenting sponsor of the show, Corwin got the green light for the series from ABC and started filming in June.
“Defenders helped bring the series to life,” said Corwin. “They really are pioneers in American conservation, and uncompromising warriors when it comes to policy and environment.”
Corwin said he wants to go state to state, region to region, and highlight unsung heroes who are protecting species and wilderness.
Corwin’s first stop was Massachusetts, which met with a little skepticism from his producers.
“They said, ‘Massachusetts? Why?’ I told them because Massachusetts has awesome science, incredible conservation, and amazing wildlife, like bears, eagles, falcons, etc.”
So Corwin and his production team pulled together two episodes dedicated to Massachusetts and New England stories, including peregrine falcons nesting in Boston Harbor on top of a Massachusetts Water Resources Authority treatment facility; the New England Aquarium sea turtle rescue program; a neighborhood conservation project in Somerset to help conserve diamondback terrapins; and a conservation group in New Hampshire that raises and releases orphaned black bear cubs.
Corwin said factors like climate change, habitat loss, and pollution have pushed many species to the brink of extinction.
“Within my children’s lifetime they could see up to 50 percent of species driven to extinction,” said Corwin. “I knew this was an important story to tell, but I didn’t want the doom and gloom angle. I wanted to create a series where we solve problems.”
Corwin said there are many endangered species — such as bald eagles and alligators — that have been brought back from the brink of extinction by the hard work of citizens, scientists, conservation organizations, and federal and state agencies, such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
“I’m looking at species that have now recovered, to a point where I can look at the marsh behind my house and see eagles,” said Corwin. “There are challenges, but there’s also discovery, adventure, and fun. And I also want to focus on being inclusive, to make sure everyone is at the table for conservation.”
Corwin said he just did a story about the Alutiiq people reintroducing bison in Alaska.
“There used to be bison in Alaska,” said Corwin. “Now there’s an effort to bring them back, through the lens of a scientific-based program run by an Alaskan native community. It’s an effort to bring back a species that’s been absent in this part of the world for centuries.”
Corwin has bachelor’s degrees in biology and anthropology from Bridgewater State University, a master’s in wildlife and fisheries conservation from UMass Amherst, and several honorary doctorates in education and environmental science. He said he’s been interested in wildlife and conservation since he was a child.
“I’ve always been a snake guy,” said Corwin. “I found a garter snake in Middleborough in my grandparents’ backyard when I was a kid, and I was hooked. I became a naturalist.”
Corwin acknowledged that to whip up a TV series in the middle of a pandemic is difficult.
“You have to be able to adapt,” he said. “It’s exciting, but it can be exhausting. In the end we always find a way to make a successful product and deliver the show.”
Asked if he has a favorite place in North America, Corwin said there are many places he loves.
“I’m an avid outdoors person,” said Corwin. “I love where I live, love New England. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Corwin said he also loves the Pacific Northwest, and Sitka, Alaska. Surprisingly, he said one of his favorite places is South Dakota.
“You take the Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone, and the prairie, and shrink it down a little to make it more accessible, and that’s South Dakota,” said Corwin. “Most people don’t know that, but it’s awesome. South Dakota is really, really beautiful.”
But at heart, Corwin said, he’s really a coastal guy.
“I love the coast,” said Corwin, “especially rocky shores. As a matter of fact, in about an hour I’m flying to California to do a story on California condors in Big Sur.”
Corwin said during his West Coast trip, he and his production crew will be filming stories about the conservation of condors, giant garter snakes, bats in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, sea otters, and the effects of climate change on redwoods.
Working with friends who are saving condors epitomizes what his new television series is about, he said, noting that the iconic birds came close to disappearing. There were only a couple dozen left in the 1980s, and now, thanks to conservation efforts and captive breeding programs, there are several hundred condors in the wild.
“It’s a paradox,” said Corwin. “The opportunity for an animal to be truly wild is limited because they will cross paths with humans. But we can make a difference if we focus and use our hearts as a priority. We can bring back endangered species.”
Don Lyman can be reached at email@example.com.