Yellowstone Superintendent Calls for National Campaign
This fall, Yellowstone National Park superintendent Suzanne Lewis, echoing a new cadre of activists around the country, called for a national No Child Left Inside campaign “to make children more comfortable with the outdoors and encourage long-term support of wild places.” The reason: U.S. National Park visits by Americans have dropped by 25 percent since 1987. Fewer people attending national parks may, in one sense, be good news. Parks have been overcrowded for decades – at least on the roads; the vast majority of park visitors never get a quarter mile from their cars. Some conservationists now worry that such a precipitous drop in attendance may reduce future political support for parks.
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Conservation groups focus more on nature-deficit disorder.
Over the past year, the Sierra Club has expanded its commitment to connect children to nature through its Inner City Outings program for at-risk youths, and has ramped up its legislative efforts in support of environmental education. The National Audubon Society and regional Audubon groups are intensifying and expanding their already established efforts to build a network of nature centers across the country with a special focus on getting kids outside. The National Wildlife Federation is also framing more of its long-range planning around the necessity to get kids directly involved with nature. Among other efforts, NWF has launched “The Green Hour,” a national campaign to persuade parents to encourage their children to spend one hour a day in nature – whether that nature is found in a forest or as close as the back yard. The Sierra Club, among other environmental organizations, is also expanding its commitment to connecting kids to nature; “Bringing 10,000 kids into the woods by 2010.” Officials at the St. Louis Zoo and the Missouri Botanical Garden are currently discussing how they might work together to create a regional network and campaign in eastern Missouri.
Federal conservation agencies predict “brain drain.”
As baby boomers move toward retirement, the stock of new conservationists simply may not be there. Enrollment in scattered ecology or environmental courses has increased or is stable, but there’s little evidence this approach leads to a sufficient number of career conservationists. Meanwhile, from 1980 to 2003, undergraduate enrollment in natural resource programs fell, according to research conducted at Utah State University. Interpreting hard statistics prior to 1980 is problematic, says Terry Sharik, a professor at Utah State's College of Natural Resources. But he estimates that if the '70s are factored in, enrollment may have decreased by half. Sharik points to decreased physical involvement of children in nature as one of the prime reasons for the potential brain drain.