President's View: The Joy—and Value—of the Great Outdoors

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, nature provides solace, education and hope.

  • Collin O’Mara, President & CEO of the National Wildlife Federation
  • Conservation
  • Sep 23, 2020

Collin O’Mara (left) and his wife and daughters— along with NWF’s Ranger Rick—enjoy fishing together on Delaware’s Brandywine Creek.

AS THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC PERSISTS, millions of Americans are turning to nature—hiking through towering forests, birding near wetlands, fly-fishing on meandering streams or camping under the stars—for solace, inspiration and exercise.

This deep connection with nature is essential, especially for our children. At a time when learning has moved from classrooms to screens, the sensory stimulation of time outdoors is critical for childhood development. Immersion in nature builds greater aptitude for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. It builds critical thinking and leadership skills. Brisk exercise outdoors improves physical health, and time enjoying the wonders of wildlife reduces stress and improves mental health. During times like these, giving children the gift of nature is truly the best present you can provide. 

Unfortunately, for millions of kids in America—particularly Black, Brown and Indigenous youth—access to nature is not within reach. That’s why our National Wildlife Federation family is working hard to restore wildlife habitat and provide new, safe outdoor spaces in every community across the nation. We’re building nature-based play spaces through our Early Childhood Health Outdoors initiative and creating habitat at schools, parks, homes, churches and businesses. 

Recently, we helped lead the charge to pass the Great American Outdoors Act—a historic, bipartisan conservation victory that will fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and devote $9.5 billion to restoring recreational infrastructure in national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, other public lands and Indigenous schools. By funding the LWCF, this legislation will help make nature accessible to all.

The growing recognition of the importance of nature is critical to solving the challenges we face. From a public health perspective, preventing future zoonotic pandemics demands that we curtail wildlife trafficking and preserve and restore habitat. Economically, the most cost-effective means of creating good jobs across the country is by restoring forests, grasslands and coastlines, ideally through a 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps. Bolstering natural defenses—such as wetlands that slow storm surge—will improve community resilience to extreme-weather events. And habitat investments help recover imperiled wildlife, produce clean air and water and sequester carbon. It’s the ultimate win-win-win.

Just as nature is helping us survive a pandemic, nature is essential to building a better future.

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More from National Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation:

The National Wildlife Federation Helping Families through the COVID-19 Outbreak »
NWF: Our Work »
Read Last Issue's President's View »

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