Friday, November 30, 2007

San Diego bound

I'll be off to San Diego next week to participate in the Pacific West and Alaska regional superinten-dent's conference. The conference runs Tuesday through Thursday, with discussions about issues facing superintendents throughout the region, including global climate change, volunteerism, public partnerships, outreach and recruitment, new technologies, and the Service's Centennial Initiative. I've been invited to participate in a panel discussion on Wednesday morning, talking about strategies for connecting members of the public with their national parks, especially youth. I'll be joined by Saul Weisburg of the North Cascades Institute, Mandy Vance from WildLink, near Yosemite, and Michael Richardson from the James P. Beckwourth Mountain Club in Denver. These people represent very successful partnership with other national parks, and even though our own partnership with SCA has been tremendously successful this past year, I still feel a bit like the new kid on the block! I'm very much looking forward to hearing what the others have to say, and learning from their experience, as well as attending some of the other conference sessions during the day: "The Special Meaning of National Parks," by Dayton Duncan; "Connecting People to Nature: The National Park Service Role," by Richard Louv; and, in the afternoon, three great options for what unfortunately are concurrent sessions: "Programs that Connect Youth and Communities to Parks," "Technology Tools for Connecting People to Parks and Parks to People," and "Cultivating Park Stewardship through Volunteerism."

Tuesday is a bonus day: since I'll already be there, I get to listen in on the discussions of climate change and the Centennial Initiative, and look forward to bringing insights on those topics back to the interpretive staff here at Rainier. With our glaciers melting at an accelerating rate, and our rivers filling up with glacial debris, changing course, and flooding their banks, that's an extremely relevant issue for us here.

Meanwhile, I've spent part of the past week preparing for the conference, including creating a poster about our flood recovery efforts to display. I've included a thumbnail version that you can click to see at larger size (not full-size--it's 36x48" at 300dpi!!). It's an interesting challenge, to boil down a full year of effort, involving permanent, seasonal, and volunteer staff and numerous partners, into a poster that isn't too complicated or wordy, and still has enough visual flair to catch people's interest. You can judge for yourself how successful I was.

In other news, check out Washington's National Park Fund's new website (see the previous blog entry for details), and don't miss their links to SCA's Final Report for 2007 and a Flickr website with tons of great pictures from around Mount Rainier. And finally, note that there is now 15" of snow on the ground at Longmire, and 34" at Paradise. The trees through my window here at Longmire are blanketed with snow and very beautiful. Dust off your skis and snowshoes, winter's a-comin'!

- Kevin Bacher, Volunteer Program Manager

1 comment:

Mike Vandeman said...

Last Child in the Woods ––
Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,
by Richard Louv
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
November 16, 2006

In this eloquent and comprehensive work, Louv makes a convincing case for ensuring that children (and adults) maintain access to pristine natural areas, and even, when those are not available, any bit of nature that we can preserve, such as vacant lots. I agree with him 100%. Just as we never really outgrow our need for our parents (and grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.), humanity has never outgrown, and can never outgrow, our need for the companionship and mutual benefits of other species.

But what strikes me most about this book is how Louv is able, in spite of 310 pages of text, to completely ignore the two most obvious problems with his thesis: (1) We want and need to have contact with other species, but neither we nor Louv bother to ask whether they want to have contact with us! In fact, most species of wildlife obviously do not like having humans around, and can thrive only if we leave them alone! Or they are able tolerate our presence, but only within certain limits. (2) We and Louv never ask what type of contact is appropriate! He includes fishing, hunting, building "forts", farming, ranching, and all other manner of recreation. Clearly, not all contact with nature leads to someone becoming an advocate and protector of wildlife. While one kid may see a beautiful area and decide to protect it, what's to stop another from seeing it and thinking of it as a great place to build a house or create a ski resort? Developers and industrialists must come from somewhere, and they no doubt played in the woods with the future environmentalists!

It is obvious, and not a particularly new idea, that we must experience wilderness in order to appreciate it. But it is equally true, though ("conveniently") never mentioned, that we need to stay out of nature, if the wildlife that live there are to survive. I discuss this issue thoroughly in the essay, "Wildlife Need Habitat Off-Limits to Humans!", at

It should also be obvious (but apparently isn't) that how we interact with nature determines how we think about it and how we learn to treat it. Remember, children don't learn so much what we tell them, but they learn very well what they see us do. Fishing, building "forts", mountain biking, and even berry-picking teach us that nature exists for us to exploit. Luckily, my fort-building career was cut short by a bee-sting! As I was about to cut down a tree to lay a third layer of logs on my little log cabin in the woods, I took one swing at the trunk with my axe, and immediately got a painful sting (there must have been a bee-hive in the tree) and ran away as fast as I could.

On page 144 Louv quotes Rasheed Salahuddin: "Nature has been taken over by thugs who care absolutely nothing about it. We need to take nature back." Then he titles his next chapter "Where Will Future Stewards of Nature Come From?" Where indeed? While fishing may bring one into contact with natural beauty, that message can be eclipsed by the more salient one that the fish exist to pleasure and feed humans (even if we release them after we catch them). (My fishing career was also short-lived, perhaps because I spent most of the time either waiting for fish that never came, or untangling fishing line.) Mountain bikers claim that they are "nature-lovers" and are "just hikers on wheels". But if you watch one of their helmet-camera videos, it is easy to see that 99.44% of their attention must be devoted to controlling their bike, or they will crash. Children initiated into mountain biking may learn to identify a plant or two, but by far the strongest message they will receive is that the rough treatment of nature is acceptable. It's not!

On page 184 Louv recommends that kids carry cell phones. First of all, cell phones transmit on essentially the same frequency as a microwave oven, and are therefore hazardous to one's health –- especially for children, whose skulls are still relatively thin. Second, there is nothing that will spoil one's experience of nature faster than something that reminds one of the city and the "civilized" world. The last thing one wants while enjoying nature is to be reminded of the world outside. Nothing will ruin a hike or a picnic faster than hearing a radio or the ring of a cell phone, or seeing a headset, cell phone, or mountain bike. I've been enjoying nature for over 60 years, and can't remember a single time when I felt a need for any of these items.

It's clear that we humans need to reduce our impacts on wildlife, if they, and hence we, are to survive. But it is repugnant and arguably inhumane to restrict human access to nature. Therefore, we need to practice minimal-impact recreation (i.e., hiking only), and leave our technology (if we need it at all!) at home. In other words, we need to decrease the quantity of contact with nature, and increase the quality.


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