Joint resources panel asks, 'Where are the kids?'

Posted on May 21st, 2007

By Dan Berman

E&E News: The House Parks and Fisheries subcommittees are scheduled this week to examine societal trends that some say are causing a disconnect between children and the outdoors.

Members will hear about federal and state initiatives designed to get kids outdoors and interested in the environment around them, according to a House Democratic aide. Representatives from the Interior Department, the Forest Service, state governments and the outdoor recreation industry are expected to testify.

The movement picked up steam a couple of years ago with the publication of "Last Child in the Woods — Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder," a book examining generational views of recreation and open space. Author Richard Louv won't be at Thursday's hearing, but he will be helping launch a new Forest Service program tomorrow.

"More Kids in the Woods" is a pilot challenge cost-share program designed to "engage children … in recreation activities and nature-based learning, thereby establishing meaningful and lasting connections with nature," according to the Forest Service.

Last year, the recreation industry and the National Park Service launched a campaign designed to promote national parks as a destination for outdoor exercise and activity in an effort to bring new visitors to the parks and build congressional support. The pilot program in seven parks is intended to conduct health and activity research and study the effectiveness of communication strategies that promote parks for outdoor exercise.

State programs such as Connecticut's "No Child Left Inside" and Texas' "Life is Better Outside" are seen as a start to bring families to under-visited state parks as well.

If the trend is not reversed, future generations could also lack a conservation ethic, Louv told a House Appropriations subcommittee earlier this year. "Because children are not going out and bonding in nature, who will care for the endangered species and spotted owls?" he asked.

Louv said his research and interviews showed that kids are not staying indoors simply because of computers, television or other conveniences of modern life. The media-driven fear of strangers and child abduction is actually keeping kids indoors, or confined to organized sporting activities, he said (E&E Daily, Feb. 28).

Thursday's hearing isn't tied to any potential legislation, the House aide said, but Scott Silver of Oregon-based Wild Wilderness said it is another chance for the recreation industry to "brand" public lands for their own purposes.

"They've come up with this wonderful marketing campaign based on the total fabrication that public lands aren't relative to kids," Silver said.

"Conservationists really want to be able to say something positive," Silver added. "We need to connect our youth to the outdoors, but the big conservation groups are a little bit naive how this issue has been created and manipulated and advancing by certain parties."

Schedule: The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Thursday, May 24, in 1324 Longworth.