Public Release: 

Ecologists work to link kids with nature

Symposium will feature 'Last Child in the Woods' author Richard Louv

Ecological Society of America

"Cable television and video games are winning out over more traditional outdoor recreation for the time and interest of our young people. Our kids need fewer adventure games and more actual adventure in their lives and we need to make that happen." So said Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Chairman of the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee during a hearing held this past spring. A line-up of invited witnesses, ranging from the Chief of the Forest Service to the Chairman of the Board for the American Sportfishing Association followed, each testifying on aspects of the trend away from outdoor activity for America's youth.

Now ecological scientists--well positioned because of their field of study--are stepping up to do their part. The symposium "No child left indoors: Ecologists linking young people with nature" co-organized by the Ecological Society of America's Vice President for Education Margaret Lowman (New College of Florida) and Bob Pohlad (Ferrum College) will be held during the joint meeting of ESA and the Society for Ecological Restoration.

Richard Louv, whose 2005 book "Last Child in the Woods" called nation-wide attention to the nature deficit in U.S. children, is keynote speaker for the symposium. The session will feature eight case studies offered by ecologists of different ages, races, and cultures and employing different outreach tools. Case studies will range from outdoor laboratories in Montana, to inspiring kids via tree canopy walkways, to community restoration activities on Catalina Island in California.

"Knowledge of nature is vital if young people are ultimately going to make good decisions about personal health, climate change, and land-use management," says Lowman. "Kids need to touch flowers and know why some plants can't survive without pollinators such as bees. It also doesn't hurt to know the difference between a harmless king snake and a venomous coral snake!"

Richard Louv notes in his book that children growing up over the last 20 years have increasingly limited experience of the outdoors, which is contributing to decreased understanding and appreciation of the environment on which humanity depends. National statistics show that visits to national and state parks have fallen off by as much as 25 percent in the last decade. Across the 'pond', a recent survey of British school children found that more children knew the characters of the electronic game Pokemon than could recognize an oak tree or an otter. Biological, health, and economic data also indicate that children who connect with nature perform better in school and exhibit fewer behavioral challenges.

Lowman and her colleagues in the symposium hope that other ecological scientists will join them in seeking creative activities to link kids with their environment. In conjunction with April's Earth Day, the Ecological Society of America released a statement in support of the No Child Left Indoors initiative (http://www.esa.org/pao/newsroom/pressReleases2007/04182007.php). The Society's 2007 and 2008 annual meetings will feature informal science education sessions, focusing on ways in which ecologists can make citizen science education part of their work ethic.

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In addition to Louv (San Diego Union-Tribune) and Lowman, other panelists in the session are: Carlos De la Rosa (Catalina Island Conservancy), Carolyn Lee Thomas (Ferrum College), Fabiana Silva (New College of Florida), David Oberbillig (Hellgate High School, Missoula, Montana), Lavinia Schoene (Burgundy Center for Wildlife Studies, Capon Bridge, West Virginia), Milton Manase (American Samoa Community College), and Alan Berkowitz (Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, NY). Richard Louv will also sign copies of his book after the session.

For more information about this session and other ESA Meeting activities, visit: http://www.esa.org/sanjose/ The theme of the meeting is "Ecology-based restoration in a changing world" and some 4,000 scientists are expected to attend.

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