Conservation Community: Small change making a big change for wildlife

Photo: Rachel Arabia for Mustang News
John Tiedemann with a California Scrub Jay on the campus of Cal Poly, where he works as a custodian and collects spare change for wildlife conservation.

Meet John Tiedemann, a bear lover with a unique way of helping wildlife

By Kayla Heinze, Communications Specialist

At first glance, couch cushions and city sidewalks are not important locations for grizzly bear conservation. But it is in these places that John Tiedemann makes an impact for the far away fierce mountains and gentle river valleys of our beloved Northern Rockies.

A longtime Vital Ground supporter and lifelong animal lover, John refers to his collecting efforts as “spare change for bear range.” When he started working as a custodian in the first-year dorms of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, 13 years ago, he decided to donate all the coins he found left behind after students moved out for the summer. It became a habit. 

“I’m always looking for change now,” John said. “I collect it in a jar on my dresser.”

Growing up in California, John found that animals, including childhood dogs and backyard wildlife, struck a chord with him. Now, at his home in San Luis Obispo that butts up against the hills, he cherishes the deer, squirrels, blue jays, skunks and more that make up his local wildlife community. A self-described “big softie,” John said he often watches videos of bear cubs playing during his lunch breaks.

The special affection John has for bears and all animals was palpable, even over the phone. He movingly recounted a time he watched a black bear sow grieve her cub after it was hit by a car. 

“That’s me in a nutshell,” John said. “I have so much love for them. It hurts me when I see their territory slipping away. Nobody asked them if it’s okay.”

A little going a long way for wildlife

From mountain lions to grizzlies, John Tiedemann cares about wildlife threatened by habitat loss. (Photo: Connor Meyer/Yellowstone National Park)

John said he appreciates Vital Ground’s work protecting habitat in the face of development and our strategic efforts to connect bear populations so they stay genetically diverse and healthy. On the California landscapes he knows well, mountain lions have faced similar habitat loss and genetic isolation. In the face of these threats, John balances confronting the immensity of the problems with the concreteness of his contributions.

“I’ve always wanted to do more,” John said. “But every time I read an article about a different piece of property being procured I take pride in the fact that I helped a little bit.”

John said he knows every contribution has an impact. While the coins he collects are small, left behind by others as worthless change, his never-ending hunt adds up to something significant. Consistent support over the years from donors like John has allowed Vital Ground to surpass ambitious milestones like protecting and enhancing over 1 million acres through our habitat protection projects and conflict prevention partnerships. When we all chip in, it turns out those small coins hiding in the couch can in fact do a lot for bears. 

“It’s kind of like treasure,” John said. “A little bit of change in the right direction can change the world. If we can do it for one animal it’s worth it.”

Join John and the rest of our conservation community to help us meet our end-of-year match…

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