Friday, 12 June 2009

Generation ZZZZ?

Here’s a glitch our digital prophets didn’t foresee: our latest generation doesn’t want to leave the house.They’re falling asleep, facing the traditional Call to Nature. Plugged in, they savor their I-pods, their chat rooms, their blogs, slowly growing more obese and isolated! Greenies and National Park managers alike bemoan a sudden decline in outdoor visitors.

Between 1995 and 2005, overnight stays fell 20% and camping and backcountry stays were down 24%. Even Yosemite took a 17% hit, and Death Valley, a stone’s throw from the burgeoning Las Vegas, lost 28% in that decade.The Sierra Club flourished under its recruiting regimen of “a transcendent experience in nature” (especially among children) to stimulate support for its environmental initiatives.

In “Last Child in the Woods:Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder”, Richard Louv argues that “the political implications are enormous” and deplores the social, psychological and even spiritual implications of a digitalized generation alienated from traditional experiences of Nature. Louv has been persuading local, state, and national groups to join his “No Child Left Inside” movement. He reasons,”This issue has the power to pull people together from sectors you wouldn’t expect. Environmentalists are traditionally liberal, but conservatives, too, are worried about children and nature. It’s a grass-roots movement in both the literal and metaphoric senses.”

Non-white children have never had as much access to Nature as their white peers. So the Sierra Club has 65 volunteer-led programs throughout the United States to bring inner city children in direct contact with the natural world. As Martin LeBlanc, who manages these planned forays, puts it: “We don’t need to be giving them propaganda about offshore oil-drilling, not when they’re 13 years old. We just need to get them outside.” (“No child left inside,” The Economist (2/10/2007).)

The National Wildlife Federation for forty years has provided its “Ranger Rick” magazine and other educational initiatives to involve children in our of door activities. Kevin Coyle NWF veep for education reports a growing anxiety among environmentalists. “There won’t be a conservation movement 30 years from now if there’s no love for nature.”

The NWF has inaugurated a “green hour a day” program to encourage families to get outside once a day. In a ploy with the digital devil next month they start a website listing “green hour” activities. They are also working with hunting and sportsman organizations (they are suffering as well from declining memberships) to lobby state governments for funding for outdoor activities.

Meanwhile, back in the gray wolf’s lair, new kinds of politicking are afoot. During the last week in January a wolf stepped on a steel leg-hold trap set for a coyote outside a ranch in LaBarge, Wyoming. The old codger, teeth worn down to the gum, managed to uproot the trap’s anchor, dragging the anchor and chain for a few days until a US Fish and Wildlife specialist tracked her down and put her out of her misery, one of 152 wolves shot last year.

Just a few days after that mercy death, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed delisting the gray wolf off the endangered species list in the Northern Rockies. (It had already been de-listed in the Western Great Lakes). (They had been listed “endangered” since 1974.)

In 1995 and 1996, 32 wolves were introduced into Yellowstone National Park and 35 into Idaho. Now its estimated that about 370 wolves roam the tri-state area of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. If you count animals drifting down from Canada into Montana, the pack is around 1250.

What do they eat? About 90% in the Yellowstone area have an elk diet. Hunters reason that’s OK in the overgrazed terrain. But conservationists worry about the diminished elk herds. And ranchers keep a careful tab on variations in wolf diet: In 2006: 170 cows, 344 sheep,eight dogs, a horse, a mule and two llamas.

It’s a cruel Nature out there: wolf eat elk, and so on. Fish and Wildlife has approved a management plan for Idaho and Montana, and awaits a plan from Wyoming. Idaho’s governor, Butch Otter, has already spoken for the first ticket to shoot a wolf himself! Animal sounding bravado is de rigeur in Rocky Mountain politics. Meanwhile, the gray wolves howl are their new perils. But American children hear them not, absorbed as they are in YouTubing. Nature, observed and ignored, remains red in tooth and clause.

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