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A Fisheries Office Helps Combat Nature Deficit Disorder
Midwest Region, November 1, 2007
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Twenty-five years have passed since the day my father first took me fishing, but the memories of that day are still vivid in my mind. 

 

In a tiny, muddy creek that lazily trickled through an Illinois cow pasture, I rejoiced in catching pint-sized bullheads and crayfish.  I remember the magic of discovering that life abounded below those murky waters.  Soon, I started fishing for larger fare, namely redhorse and carp.  Armed with only a cheap four-foot Zebco rod and an equally cheap Zebco reel, I battled those leviathans of the deep. 

 

With my father’s tutelage and his seemingly supernatural ability to untangle fishing line, I quickly developed a passion for fishing and an understanding of nature.  When I was a little older, I was turned loose to explore the surrounding woods and streams unsupervised.  The lessons learned from those early outdoor experiences helped shape my character and instilled in me a healthy respect for the Earth and all its creatures.

 

During my youth, the time I spent outdoors was shrouded in mystery and filled with awe.  Around every river bend and beneath every unturned stone, an adventure awaited.  Sadly this connection to nature, which was once so commonplace, is becoming a thing of the past.  Over the past several decades, participation in sportfishing and hunting has declined as fewer young people take up these sports.  Likewise, participation in non-consumptive outdoor activities, such as camping and hiking, has also declined.

 

This alarming trend is highlighted in Richard Louv’s landmark book Last Child in the Woods.  Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder” to describe this growing disconnect between children and the natural world. 

 

Louv documents many personal, societal and environmental problems associated with nature deficit disorder.  His research goes so far as to link childhood obesity and ADHD to nature deficit disorder.  While the situation may seem grim, there are ways that we can combat this problem. 

 

One of the necessary first steps is to simply introduce children to the outdoors.  Over the past year, Columbia National Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office has spearheaded many efforts to connect children to nature. 

 

Many times, just the act of seeing and touching animals is enough to spark a child’s interest.  As we perform educational outreach events across Missouri, we often display live fish.  These live fish displays always generate great interest and enthusiasm from children and adults alike.  Many children have never seen big river fish species, so the opportunity to touch and study these creatures is a memorable and hopefully education experience for them. 

 

During the past year alone, we have displayed live fish at nine outreach events.  The children usually remark that seeing and touching fish was the highlight of their day.  Looking at pictures in a book or watching nature programs on television is fine and good, but it can never match the experience of holding a live animal.  As one young student so aptly said, “I liked feeling the catfish.  It was really slimy.”     

 

Beyond seeing live fish, children need to learn about habitats where these fish live.  Columbia NFWCO has organized many education trips on the Missouri River.  Although Columbia is only a couple of miles from the Missouri River, many people have only seen the river from their car, as they speed by on the Interstate 70 Bridge.  Getting people out on the water is the best way to combat misconceptions and fears many have of the Missouri River. 

 

Some memorable events include a Cub Scout trip to the Missouri River and a trip to a local stream where kids collected aquatic invertebrates and fish.  For children to have a true connection to nature, they need to get outside and get their hands dirty and feet wet.  Field trips such as these give students a hands-on, interactive introduction to the outdoors.  

 

Hunting and fishing have always been among humankind’s strongest links to the natural world.  Most anglers and hunters have a deep understanding of nature and usually have strong conservation ethics.  We feel it is important that these proud sporting traditions are continued by future generations.  Columbia NFWCO participated in Missouri’s 2007 Free Fishing Days.  Staff members helped children bait hooks, cast and catch fish.  The kids had a blast, and hopefully they will be hooked on fishing for a lifetime. 

 

Columbia NFWCO has also become heavily involved with the Wonders of Wildlife (WOW) school.  This program hosts outdoor education events at different locations throughout the year, offering a vast variety of classes. We attended the weekend WOW event held at Roaring Rivers State Park in southwestern Missouri. 

 

Columbia NFWCO staff members taught classes including stream ecology, whitetail deer hunting, lake fishing, small stream fishing, rappelling and field dressing/butchering of wild game.  Columbia NFWCO is now in the planning stages of hosting a WOW event in Columbia.  This event will reach thousands of people in the community and will further our educational mission.                    

 

In 2007, Columbia NFWCO took part in 41 outreach events.  Many of these events were tailored for children who had limited or no interactions with nature. Educating children and getting them to participate in outdoor activities is part of the Columbia NFWCO mission. 

 

We could never accomplish this task on our own, which is why we work so closely with a variety of partners.  The long list of partners includes: Big Muddy NWR, Columbia Ecological Services, Missouri Department of Conservation, De Soto NWR, USGS, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, Bass Pro Shops, WOW, and many local school districts. 

 

With this collaborative approach, we hope to convert as many children as possible into nature lovers who will also be good stewards of our Earth.

 

Colby Wrasse

Contact Info: Colby Wrasse, 573-234-2132 x30, colby_wrasse@fws.gov



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