Some ten summers of camping in the forests, mountains, and meadows of the Western United States have given me an opportunity to observe some of the broken links in Nature’s web of life that have been caused by humans in Nature. Some of my observations have been presented in previous blogs. I expressed deep disappointment in events that ranged from government sanctioned killing (they call it “harvesting”) of important top predators all the way down to families tearing through an ecosystem with their ATVs. It seemed like every year it got worse. As I drove on the byways of America, it seemed that all I saw was fences, crops, and cattle, On public lands, various enterprises were extracting or using Nature’s for the benefit of mankind rather than working in concert with Nature. I confess to being distraught and depressed over this scenario of human dominance in a Nature that requires interdependence to function.
However, over the last three years, I’ve sensed small, subtle, and positive changes in the way people and government are interacting with our Earth. All of this has brought me joy and I’d like to share some of my observations with you. Please keep in mind that some of these changes may have been happening long before I observed them. Nonetheless, they are worth noting.
More people are spending time in Nature
My last two summer adventures (2015 and 2016) have been marked by an obvious increase in the number of people enjoying Nature. National parks are more crowded and more campgrounds are full. While frustrating when one is looking to engage Nature in solitude, I am very happy to see so many people spending their vacations connecting with Nature. In particular, I feel great pleasure in the screaming delight of the children and young people as new discoveries are experienced with the help of parents or docents.
Campgrounds and respectful campers
During our summer camping adventures, my partner and I have usually avoided campgrounds because of crowded conditions and human noise. Instead, we’ve chosen to enjoy the solitude of Nature by visiting the more remote US Forest Service and BLM roads and other places not frequented by the average vacationing group. We avoided places where RVs were permitted to use their generators because their noise affected the ability of Nature’s creatures to communicate.
Recently however, I’ve happily noticed less negative human impact in campgrounds. Most certainly, there seems to be more respect for Nature. Rarely do I hear loud conversation, cell phone chatter, music or loud parties. And, more often, one is able to talk to an RVer about his generator and make some sort of friendly arrangement. More and more, the government agencies are installing some campsites with electric hookups that eliminate the need or urge to use a generator. At these campgrounds, generators are prohibited. Of course, the charge for using a hookup is greater than other campsites — providing additional income for the agency.
This past year, we stayed mostly at campgrounds. With judicious selection of campsites and neighbors, I find more respect for Nature from fellow campers than I have seen in the past.
Kids and their families
It used to be that a summering family would arrive with their dogs, one or more ATVs, and the cell phones. I see fewer ATVs, less cell phone chatter, and the family pooch is under better control. More important, I am seeing entire families on the Nature trails where parents are encouraging their kids to explore. The chatter of excited young people making new discoveries gives me more hope for the next generation. When appropriate, I make it a point to praise the parents for sharing the Nature experience with their offspring.
Environmental Education Programs
One of my great joys these days is to see a lot more environmental education programs taking place both at schools during the school year and at many public camping areas during the summer. It has been my privilege to work with some of the school programs both in the United States and Mexico. There is a growing wealth of teaching material and lesson sets on the Internet that is available for use by all programs.
US Park Service on-site education programs
While the US Park Service has always had environmental education activities at their National Parks, I’ve noticed a significant increase in the quality of the rangers who were doing the teaching as well as the teaching methodology. In the old days, a national park would put up announcements for presentations and assume that people would come. Over the last two years, I’ve noticed that rangers walk around a campsite and make personal announcements at each camp site. In addition, presentations are usually in the Socratic style where the ranger asks questions rather than give lectures. The Socratic method is a very effective way of maintaining interest and “drawing out” the audience as a ranger presents a subject.
I’ve also observed the interaction between rangers and young people who have studied material, visited places, and wish to receive a junior ranger badge. Upon presenting themselves to a ranger at a visitor center, these young people participate in a Socratic discussion with the ranger. When the ranger is satisfied that the youth understands the subject at hand, an oath is taken, the badge is presented. and photos are taken with the ranger. The rangers confirm that they are now trained to educate the public using Socratic methods.
I’ve also observed rangers with outgoing personalities who roam the park and engage visitors in discussions about various subjects. I have created a description of one such encounter in one of my blog postings.
In my view, the US Park Service has been doing a fantastic job by providing important knowledge about Nature and her web to the visiting public.
The biggest broken link that we have in our hope to preserve Nature for future generations is the disconnection between people and Nature. Richard Louv calls it ” Nature deficit disorder”. The challenge is to reconnect people with Nature. In my small world, I am becoming more optimistic that this “disconnect” is very slowly evaporating. My question to you, dear reader, is what can you do to encourage humanity to reconnect to a Nature upon which we humans totally depend for our very survival?
My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.