Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Leaving the Woods: ‘Nature-based Recreation’ is Declining

According to a recent study funded by the Nature Conservancy, Americans are leaving the woods behind, or just never making there in the first place. This Newsweek article plays the findings against quotes from Walden and notes that most of the activities (including fishing) that once brought people to nature are on the decline.

“Pergams and Zaradic found declines averaging about 1 percent a year in per capita participation in the most significant outdoor activities, notably camping and hunting. A small increase in backpacking did little to offset the overall picture, because hardly anyone does it in the first place. Participation in duck hunting, which for obscure bureaucratic reasons is tracked separately from other kinds of hunting, is off 60 percent from its peak, which was back in 1953. Even fishing is down sharply, except in commercials for mutual funds and retirement communities.”

The blame for the decline is laid at the feet of gas prices, video games and the internet (how ironic). By the way, my favorite part about the above quote (besides the mutual fund commerical joke) is the statement that "a small increase in backpacking did little to offset the overall picture, because hardly anyone does it in the first place." As an occasional backpacker, that makes me feel pretty good.

The Newsweek author presumes Thoreau would have wanted less people in the woods anyway and would be happy with the findings. He also notes that the study did not consider ATVs and snow machines users and references the rift between traditional ‘nature lovers’ and those that like to see wilderness blur by at 30 mph or so.

Such a divide is dangerous, I think, especially in light of these findings. Anyone who loves the wilderness, be it an ATV rider or a fly fisherman, ought to be working to protect it. Surely those protection efforts will be more fruitful if the ATV rider and the fly fisherman are on the same team. If the numbers of outdoor enthusiasts are on the decline, then perhaps we need to analyze the traditional arguments that have kept people who love the woods apart. If we can come together, we might just be able to increase the sound of our voice in the face of decreased usage.

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