We are in trouble

It has happened slowly over the last 10 years especially, but now it has reached a point that the future of hunting, fishing, trapping, and the natural outdoors is at great risk. Why? Because our kids have disconnected to the natural outdoor world, and yet we need them to be the future stewards of the land, forests, streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, fish and wildlife.

Do you remember when you were a kid? You and your friends would be outdoors nearly every day and often didn’t come back home until it was nearly dark. Maybe you went down to the local pond or stream to fish, or just tromped through the nearby woods looking for interesting bugs. Did you ever just lay on the tall grass and stare up at the cloud formations? Remember how your imagination went to work? Did you ever turn rocks over in a stream to see what was underneath? Do you remember all those great times you spent with your Dad and uncles hunting? Isn’t it true that your experiences in the great outdoors forged your appreciation for the wonders in nature and motivated you to be a conservationist at heart?

How many of our children are getting out into nature today? The numbers are dwindling. Many are not even riding their bikes anymore or playing in the back yard or local park. Instead they are spending multiple hours every day inside in front of the computer or TV screen, talking on their cell phones or text messaging, listening to an I-Pod, or watching a DVD player.

Many schools have even eliminated recess so more time can be spent preparing the kids to take the tests. There is a plethora of structured after-school activities that compete for time and attention. Everything is structured . . . there is no free play time anymore.

Parents are working longer and harder outside the home. Even maintaining a household is more complicated and time consuming than in the past. Stress levels are at an all-time high. As a result, parents themselves are not getting out into nature and taking the kids with them. Fewer are introducing their children to hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, wildlife watching, or just plain exploring the great outdoors. Many parents are reluctant to let their kids go out to play because of a perceived stranger-danger (fueled by the media) and traffic if they live in an urban area. Many neighborhoods don’t even have parks with a natural setting to explore.

All the above helps explain why the sales of hunting and fishing license sales continue to decline. Fewer funds from license sales means that the state fish & wildlife agencies can no longer offer all the valuable services that are needed. If more and more of the needed funds come from a state’s general operating account, then sportsmen lose more and more control over what happens to fish and wildlife and the anti loonies gain more control. Everything suffers. Where are our future sportsmen and conservationists going to come from?

The animal-rights loonies have managed to poison some of the kids' minds/feelings about hunting and fishing.

I've just finished reading the book, Last Child in the Woods. The author, Richard Louv, provides plenty of factual research and insights that confirms what we (and especially state Fish & Game Departments) have known for awhile: that fewer and fewer adults and children are getting out into the natural world of the outdoors. The author calls it a "nature-deficit disorder".

What can we do to turn this trend around? What are some ways that we can get more kids outside and into natural environments. Well, there are definitely some things that schools can do . . . and city planners . . . and parents . . . and others such as non-profit sportsmen organizations and conservation groups.

Introducing kids to the outdoors by teaching them how to hunt is another way to get some youngsters involved, but this can be a tough nut what with the youngsters having to complete hunters education first. Hunting has continued to decline so there are fewer parents, grandparents, and uncles to teach the kids how to hunt. Hunting takes a lot more time and effort than fishing.

I think fishing is the best "hook" we have to get more kids involved. 40 million American now fish so it is already a very accepted and popular outdoor activity. Hunting is less well accepted (e.g., "guns are dangerous"). It doesn't cost very much to start off with a Zebco 202 outfit, a bobber, a few hooks, and a container of earth worms. And, the kids are likely to have success (and FUN) the first time they do it.

IMHO, setting up a casting contest is not really the best way to introduce kids to fishing . . . actually taking them fishing in the outdoors is the very best way to give them an appreciation for what is happening in the natural world. While we are helping them catch panfish, we can also be teaching an appreciation and respect for all things in nature and sharing a basic first philosophy of conservation.

How about we all take the pledge to take at least one parent and their child into the outdoors in 2008. That would make a huge difference and would insure the future of hunting, fishing, trapping, and the conservation of our natural resources.