‘Leave No Child’ Legislation Gains Momentum
By Martin LeBlanc, National Youth Education Director for the Sierra Club

children & natureIn three states -- California, New Mexico and Washington -- legislation has either been passed or is moving forward to connect high numbers of children with the outdoors. Dubbed the “Leave No Child Acts” in all three states, the legislation is supported by a diverse coalition of groups, ranging from the Sierra Club to hunters/anglers and the American Diabetes Association.

The bills are engaging decision makers in the growing “Leave No Child Inside” movement to help outdoor programs become more sustainable and grow and prosper. “This is an important first step in giving every child an opportunity to have their own special place in nature,” said Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, which is a sponsor of all three bills.

In New Mexico, SB 2 was signed into law by Gov. Bill Richardson on March 15, 2007. Sen. Cynthia Nava (D-Doña Ana) and Rep. Jimmie Hall (R-Bernalillo) led the bill. The New Mexico Outdoor Classroom Initiative – the first of its kind in the nation – is an effort to increase outdoor education across the state by utilizing the beautiful state parks, federal public lands, ranches, nature centers, and other locations. This Initiative is a collaboration between the Public Education Department and New Mexico State Parks, and provides strategies to get schools to parks and parks to schools.

In Washington, HB 1677, by Rep. Dave Quall (D-Mt. Vernon) will put in place sustainable funding for outdoor education and recreation programs that will engage underserved children. The bill passed through the House on a 97-0 unanimous vote. Budget Vice-Chair Hans Dunshee, when announcing the legislation, dubbed it the “Leave No Child Inside Act,” and mentioned Richard Louv’s influential book, “Last Child in the Woods,” as evidence of the legislation’s critical need to connect Washington State’s children with the outdoors.

In California, SB 207, introduced by Sen. Alex Padilla and co-sponsored by the Sierra Club, the California Sheriff’s Association and the American Diabetes Association, will also put in place a sustainable funding mechanism for outdoor education and recreation programs. "This program will not only improve students' academic achievements but it also creates more responsible citizens and stronger communities," Padilla said. Indeed, a 2005 study on the effects of outdoor education programs on California schoolchildren found one result to be a 27 percent increase in science test scores.

California, New Mexico and Washington have taken a forward-looking, proactive approach to re-engage children and nature. These efforts should encourage lawmakers in other states to assess how they may adopt similar measures for the betterment of their citizens.

Martin LeBlanc is the National Youth Education Director for the Sierra Club and the Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Children and Nature Network. Martin is based in Seattle. You can learn more about the Sierra Club’s work with youth at www.sierraclub.org/youth.