Several years ago, I heard of the term Nature-Deficit Disorder and trying to to learn what it was all about. I found a story, from Last Child in the Woods – Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv about an organization that took urban kids camping. A nine-year-old girl had to go to the bathroom sometime during the night. Not sure what to do or where “to go”, she woke up a counselor. When they stepped outside of the tent together, the little girl looked up grabbed the counselor’s leg and gasped. The little girl had never seen the stars before.
Initially, I was skeptical about the term “Nature-Deficit Disorder” as politically correct “mumbo-jumbo”, but any child that has never seen the stars is definitely missing something from their lives. As someone who has slept under the stars hundreds of times, the thought that a child had never seen the stars made me cry.
ADHD or Bored?
Louv goes so far as to say that some children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) actually have a nature-deficit disorder and gives examples of children who can’t pay attention in classrooms that are completely changed when they have first hand encounters with animals, plants and fresh air, as if it were “Nature’s Ritalin” without using any real drugs.
I’m sure if I were a kid today, I would be diagnosed as ADHD because I was board to death in school. But I never had problems with concentration or patience when I fished or stalked around in the woods. Go figure.
Get Outside for Mental and Physical Health
There are many organizations dedicated to encouraging people to get outside for the mental and physical health benefits. Studies have shown that office workers with windows that look out on trees, bushes or large lawns were less frustrated and found more enjoyment in their work than employees without a view.
Another study showed that hospital patients that could see trees from their rooms went home sooner than those looked at brick walls. Again, go figure.
We Need More People Outdoors
But there is another reason we need to get people interested in outdoor activities. It’s not because we want more competition for limited hunting and fishing spots, but because people that don’t know anything about the outdoors and the natural world don’t care about nature and will not help us protect it. The more people know about natural world the more they are willing to protect it.
This was demonstrated in a new study that showed people that recreate outdoors were more than four times as likely to engage in conservation activities. By engage, they mean donating to support local conservation efforts, enhancing wildlife habitat on public lands, advocating for wildlife recreation and participating in local environmental groups.
The study looked at four groups; Hunters, Bird watchers’ People that hunted and watched birds and Non-nature-based recreationists. They found that Hunters and Birdwatchers were 4 – 5 times more likely to “engage in conservation behaviors” and the group of people that participated in both hunting and bird watching were more likely to engage in all types of conservation behaviors.
We’ve all heard the hunters and fishers pay for wildlife conservation. That’s because every State wildlife agency relies on revenue from hunters and anglers for most of their conservation funding. In the last 20 years, hunting has declined while non-consumptive activities (wildlife-viewing, bird watching) have increased. The result is less revenue from hunting and fishing licenses and from the excise taxes (Pittman–Robertson Act) from the sale of firearm and ammunition.
As our population continues to grow, even more pressure will be put on fish and wildlife resources as the population demands more water, energy and space. People that don’t spend time in the natural world will not care that your trout stream runs dry as long as they can still water their grass. They will not care that 10,000 wind mills or gas wells cover your favorite hunting grounds as long as their lights stay on and prices stay low.
A society that doesn’t know about or care about the natural world creates and rewards Snooki, the Kardashians and “The Housewives” when we need more people like Steven Rinella (Meat Eater), Randy Newberg (On Your Own Adventures) and the late wild man Steve Irwin (The Crocodile Hunter).
We will ask ourselves how things were allowed to get so bad? Why didn’t somebody do something? The truth is too many people don’t know or care about the wild things and wild places that some of us can’t live without.
The late Franc White, the host of the Southern Sportsman show used to close every show with this comment: “Do yourself a favor, take a kid fishing.” That is a good place to start.
Night sky photo courtesy ForestWander.com