Sunday, February 17, 2008

Communing Without Nature

An article online recently caught my eye. Titled “Communing Without Nature”, this article outlines the declining participation in visits to National Parks and the effect this could eventually have on conservation efforts.

The report states that “ Camping, fishing and per capita visits to parks are all declining in a shift away from nature-based recreation”. It goes on to say “By studying visits to national and state parks and the issuance of hunting and fishing licenses the researchers documented declines of between 18 percent and 25 percent in various types of outdoor recreation”. A couple of the specifics the article mentions include “fishing peaked in 1981 and had declined 25 percent by 2005, the researchers found. Visits to national parks peaked in 1987 and dropped 23 percent by 2006, while hiking on the Appalachian Trial peaked in 2000 and was down 18 percent by 2005”.

The culprit? You guessed it: Television and video games. The article states “the decline, found in both the United States and Japan, appears to have begun in the 1980s and 1990s, the period of rapid growth of video games”. This quote really made me sad: “The replacement of vigorous outdoor activities by sedentary, indoor videophilia has far-reaching consequences for physical and mental health, especially in children”. The report also states, “Videophilia has been shown to be a cause of obesity, lack of socialization, attention disorders and poor academic performance”.

The long range implications of this problem are many. I have to ask myself where will our society be in 20 years? Our entertainment crazy culture is becoming like an addict looking for the next fix in another “reality” TV show or the latest video game. We are living vicariously through other peoples contrived adventures, or having “adventures” through digital characters.

The implications for our public lands are scary. The article states, "declining nature participation has crucial implications for current conservation efforts," wrote co-authors Oliver R. W. Pergams and Patricia A. Zaradic. "We think it probable that any major decline in the value placed on natural areas and experiences will greatly reduce the value people place on biodiversity conservation."

Without participation, where will support for conservation of lands come from? If our population of the future cannot truly relate to standing on a peak alone in a vast wilderness, where will the push to save these lands for future generations come from? Without true experiences in the outdoors, who will be here to stand up for our public lands in the future?

I would like to propose that we all become part of the solution to this problem. We as outdoor enthusiasts, should put aside some of the time that we take for ourselves in pursuing our activities - and bring someone with you. Find a kid you can take on your next paddle trip. Find a friend that’s never been on a true wilderness trip, and bring them on your next hike. Volunteer to be a scout leader - then focus on getting the kids into the wilderness. Find a scout troop that you could act as a “wilderness assistant” to take the group to areas you have paddled or hiked. The possibilities are endless. In short, pay your dues to the future of our wildlands by investing some of your outdoor time into others. Not only will this enrich their lives, but yours as well.

Response on 2/28
I got an email from our friend Babs Evers with Leave No Trace (LNT) yesterday. Read on to see how our little blog is getting around the web:

I posted your commentary on an LNT e-list that I belong to, and it started a firestorm--basically debating whether TV and videogames were the main or only culprit. Of course, this type of off-subject debate frequently happens on that list (and others) as people have their own axes to grind and lose sight of the overall points. Anyway, finally, Ben Lawhon (education director of the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics and all around great guy!) stepped in with this post that I thought might interest you--particularly the link.
Ben's comments:
I too am concerned that we’re not raising a generation that sees the value in nature, wilderness, parks, forest and open spaces. Yes, there are those in Scouting, 4H, GSUSA, ACA and other communities that are (thankfully) being exposed to the natural world. However, there are many, many more who aren’t. I attended the American Camping Assoc. conference last week in Nashville and went to a presentation on how to better understand today’s tweens/teens. I heard some shocking statistics:

  • Children in the U.S. spend, on average, 6 hours in front of a screen PER DAY (computer, iPod, TV, etc.) That’s over 40 hours per week – it’s like a full time job for many kids.

  • 97% of kids in the U.S. Spend less than 30 minutes per day outside doing unstructured activities, i.e. not engaging in sports, school activities, etc. The amount of time kids spend playing in creeks, digging in the sand, running through the woods and just being kids outside is no doubt on the decline.

For more information, check out

By now, I’m sure you’ve all read or at least heard of Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. If not, check it out. It’s very, very interesting.

If we’re not raising a generation who sees and appreciates the value in our natural areas who will step up when it comes time to save them from the myriad issues facing these beloved places?


Anonymous said...

What exactly does "declining nature participation has crucial implications for current conservation efforts,....." mean? It is a non-statement. Is attendance to various parks and forests tied to their funding? If one million less people visit will their budget get cut by millions of dollars? Conservation in those units does depend on funding. No money, no conservation efforts can be done. Or is the money needed for those efforts being directed to some other national use? Like war, or pork barrel projects of many congressmen? Why do we need $3million for a study of cow maneuer and the methane gas it releases?

Anonymous said...

Absolutely usage figures affect budget allocations. There is only so much money to go around, and Congress, like families, have to set priorities on how the money is spent. The short term problem is that with lack of interest in wilderness areas, funding to operate them does get cut back, as the public's lack of use shows that the areas are a low priority for them. For primitive campers and backcountry hikers, that doesn't sound like such a big deal and may even be welcomed as our favorite places become less crowded and less impacted. However, the long term problem is far worse. If people really don't care about public lands and wilderness, there will be no voices to challenge the sale of public lands in order to fund those pork barrel projects or popular social programs or raises for politicians or wars. If people don't learn the beauty and value of a wild river, why would they care if they were all dammed up to create lakes that can be surrounded by MacMansions? It's hard to care about what you do not know, and we are concerned that people will not know the outdoors.