The holidays are a time to give back, not just to each other, but to the world that sustains us.

With that in mind, here are seven unique gift ideas that help rescue wildlife, curb global warming and foster an appreciation of the natural world.

Monarch 2

Monarch butterfly (Photo: Aidan Kessler)

1 – MONARCH BUTTERFLY KIT – from Native American Seed $29.95

You can help save this endangered species by planting the native plants the butterflies eat. This gift includes three seed bags, containing Antelope Horns (20 seeds), Green Milkweed (20 seeds) and Butterfly Weed (20 seeds.) The kit comes with printed planting instructions & growing tips from the NAS farm as well as vermiculite material for “cold-stratification” to enhance vigorous seed germination.

Butterfly kit

The kit and instructions will help you become a committed monarch supporter.

While butterflies can feed on many flowering plants, these plants are the monarchs preferred food, providing them just the right nutrition as they migrate from Canada to Mexico and back annually. This great and storied migration is unlike any other, as the Native American Seed catalog explains:

“No single individual makes the entire trip. Along the way, when timing is right, female monarchs lay their eggs onto native milkweeds that quickly hatch in 4 days. Larvae feed on milkweed for about three weeks before the final caterpillar stage molts into a chrysalis or pupa. In two or three more weeks, depending on temperature, the pupal case becomes transparent and the new adult butterfly’s folded wings can be seen. Within a day or so, the pupal case cracks and the Monarch emerges. After several hours, the wings dry and it flies away… continuing the migration in search for nectar.”

Monarchs have been in decline for many years, killed and starved by three main factors: Pesticides that poison them via the pollen of GMO plants; loss of habitat as cropland subsumes wild lands and chemical farming kills the milkweed that used to surround fields; and finally, they find no respite in urban areas, which have been paved and planted with non-native plants, shrubs and trees, a trend that many people are working to turn around.

This year, the monarchs experienced a precipitous decline that has many people worried if they’ll even survive.

Read more about the plight of the monarch in this New York Times article,  The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear.

Ranger Rick Mag


These are great time-tested magazines for kids (pre- and elementary school age) that will satisfy their curiosity about animals and cultivate an appreciation for nature. (Though we wish they were a little more girl friendly, Ranger Lucy?)

Published by the National Wildlife Federation, they are affordable at $19.95 for an annual subscription. And the bonus: Interested kids will be reading them, picking up sentence syntax and grammar cues, that just aren’t so much a part of so many digital fun-and-learn programs. A great way for parents or grandparents to pass along a gift that goes beyond.

Nature Adoption Moose

3 – ANIMAL ADOPTIONS (NWF and WWF) – $35 and up

Animal Adoptions – Chances are you’re familiar with this routine of donating and getting a plush toy or “adoption certificate” as a thank you. The stuffed animals will certainly delight young recipients, while parents can deduct a portion of their donation. Several groups offer these symbolic adoptions, including:

  • National Wildlife Federation focuses on many North American species in need, such as the gray wolf  and the moose.  But they also are helping sea turtles and offer a wide array of “baby animals” with stuffed animals for tots that include exotic wildlife from around the world. You can get a bundle for a large donation,  or pick your child’s favorite animal to support.
  • World Wildlife Fund offers a huge selection of animals for “adoption.” A $50 donation gets you a plush animal for that kid in your life, plus info cards, an adoption certificate and a reusable gift bag.  There are options to give more. WWF works in more than 100 countries to save a wide array of beautiful animals worldwide that are facing a dire future, such as the critically endangered snow leopard  and the smart, peaceful and imperiled bonobos.

WWF Tshirts 2013


World Wildlife Fund, we noticed this year, has managed to clear the T-shirt fog that seems to befuddle so many non-profits, keeping them from finding good designs. We thought these WWF Ts were wearable and good conversation starters. They’re also eco-consciously made out of bamboo and organic cotton. For a $30 donation, you can pick one.

WWF also offers graphically pleasing hoodies with its iconic panda bear as a gift  for those donating $100 to the non-profit, which is well rated on Charity Navigator.

shop the frog


If you like giving food gifts, and you’re interested in saving the planet, you should know about the Frog.  Shop the Frog is a finder tool that can help you locate Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee, cocoa and other products. Buy these and you’ll be supporting tropical reforestation, conservation and indigenous farming methods.

Rainforest Alliance-certified producers follow eco-friendly, humane and fair labor practices. The Rainforest Alliance, which has been around for 25 years, has a top rating on Charity Navigator because it spends 93 percent of what it takes in on program expenses and operates transparently.

So say you want to buy Uncle Richard a bag of ethically raised coffee. Check the long list of certified brands here, then buy the product locally by selecting your state to find vendors, or shop online. You’ll find many familiar brands, Caribou Coffee, High Grounds Coffee, The Republic of Tea and Yogi Tea, as well as many boutique roasters and packagers.

NRDC Wild Spaces Donation program WhaleNursery

6 –WILD SPACES (NRDC and SIERRA) – $25 and up

For grownups, who don’t necessarily require a plush toy as a gift kickback, the Natural Resources Defense Council, provides a variety of animal-supporting or forest-restoring options through its Protect Wild Places gift program. Here you can make reasonable donations ranging from $15 to $50 targeting the rainforest, whales, old growth forests, Utah’s wildlands, New York’s natural spaces, Patagonia and more. Your recipient will get a card explaining the gift. (The NRDC, the largest environmental group in the U.S., and has a solid Charity Navigator rating of 3 stars.)

Sierra Club also offers a wild spaces donation program, asking for donations of $15, $50 or $100 to support the Everglades, Yellowstone, the Adirondacks or many more, though they send back a bunch of goodies, a plush, backpack and written material, pertaining to the place you choose. (This is a double-edged sword. The goodies are nice, especially if there’s a kid around, but they also cut into the donation dollars.)

Forest Foundation


The American Forest Foundation may just be the best supporter of U.S. trees and woodlands you’ve never heard of. But if you want to donate to a group that developed an enduring tree education program and myriad hands-on stewardship efforts there may be no one better. The American Forest Foundation helps protect both wild forests and privately owned woodlands. It has certified thousands of tree farmers and is well rated by Charity Navigator, a charity watchdog that exposes groups that mishandle money and upholds those that are spending effectively on their stated missions.

Supporting trees helps restore the landscape, fight carbon pollution, save habitat for woodland creatures, preserve outdoor recreation areas and provide a livelihood to those who work in tree-related industries — a quintuple win. There’s no kickback gift for donating, but you will get a weekly enewsletter all about trees, and for the earnest tree lover in your circle, you could order Woodland magazine.