NWF View: Our Secret Weapon

Nature may be the ultimate trump card in winning the battle to get kids outdoors

  • Tony Caligiuri, NWF Senior Vice President of Conservation and Education
  • Conservation
  • May 28, 2014

I RECENTLY ATTENDED an NWF press conference on Capitol Hill during which almost a dozen members of the U.S. Congress from both parties came to the podium to talk about a conservation issue. Nearly each one started with an anecdote about a personal experience in nature that formed her or his sense of urgency in protecting wildlife and the natural world. It was striking to hear how a simple weekend camping trip, childhood fishing expedition, backyard fort in the woods or night under the stars could yield such serious commitments to protecting our wildlife heritage.

I sat there thinking about my own childhood and the influences that led me to build a career in conservation: the Pennsylvania trout stream where I would steal away summer mornings to lure fish on a homemade fly, weekend nights with friends sleeping outside in farm fields or the excitement of my first visit to a national park. I often wonder about the future commitment of my own children, who are lured away from the outdoors by the ever-expanding entertainment opportunities of video games, online social networks and hundreds of ways to watch television. Will the affinity I try to inspire in them during our weekend hikes and summer camping trips be enough to move them as adults to protect our wildlife and natural resources? Will they fully appreciate the subtle beauty and wonder of a walk in the woods or the sound of a rushing stream?

To keep this concern in proper perspective, I remind myself of conservation’s ultimate trump card: nature itself. The power and allure of the natural world was expressed well by poet William Blake when he wrote: “To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.” If we give nature the slightest chance to win a child’s heart, most often it will beat out the competition. When we plan for conservation battles ahead, we must not forget that nature is its own best advocate.

That confidence in nature lay at the heart of NWF’s thinking when we developed such events as the Great American Backyard Campout® and our celebration of Great Outdoors Month every June. For children, spending a night outside in a tent, watching a butterfly dart across a wildlife garden that they helped plant or daydreaming beneath a shady tree can be memorable experiences. They serve as NWF’s secret weapons as we not only work to protect wildlife today, but also as we build the conservation movement of the future.

The threats to wildlife rendered by past generations were challenging—from the near-elimination by chemical pollution of birds such as the bald eagle to the near-extinction from poor management of imperiled species such as the Florida panther. But with the support of our members, NWF met each challenge and in many cases produced some of the greatest wildlife success stories in the nation’s history.

The looming threats to wildlife in the future are even greater than those of the past. The impacts of a warming climate and rising sea levels, combined with demands for more and more energy production in wildlife habitats, will require an even more committed generation of environmental leaders. To meet those challenges, organizations like NWF must ensure that this and future generations are given the opportunity to build the enduring connection with nature that is essential to a meaningful conservation ethic.

We must all do our part, from supporting NWF’s programs and campaigns for wildlife protection to working on our efforts to raise awareness and connect schools, businesses and communities with better conservation practices. And just as important, we must make sure that we are giving our own children the opportunity to connect with and fall in love with nature. Turn off the television and go look at the stars, forsake the mall for a fishing pole, walk instead of drive, and stop and smell the flowers in your wildlife-friendly garden. Heed the advice of author Edward Abbey when he wrote: “It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it.”

The kids you take camping, fishing or gardening could easily be standing at that Capitol Hill podium some day, so let’s make sure we give them good stories to tell about the way they fell in love with nature.
Tony Caligiuri is NWF's Senior Vice President of Conservation and Education.

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