We in the conservation field do a lot of hand-wringing over the growing disconnect between people and nature, and there's reason to be concerned.
America is changing: diversifying, urbanizing, gentrifying, globalizing. And its people are increasingly de-natured and disconnected from the outdoors.
So we worry about this disconnect and the challenges it presents.
But then something happens to remind us that while people are becoming physically disconnected with the outdoors, they are more and more fascinated with wild life.
Lori Iverson, in charge of Education and Visitor Services at Elk National Refuge in Wyoming, took a remarkable set of photos recently that showed a confrontation between juvenile mountain lions and coyotes.
Millions of people viewed these photos on Flickr, and thousands more commented on them and shared them on Facebook.
I think also of “Dr. Spinks,” a youngster in our Salmon in the Classroom project in Portland, Oregon. This program introduces children to salmon and teaches important lessons about stewardship.
Fourth-grader Malachi Spinks was nicknamed “Dr. Spinks” by his classmates because he hopes to become a fish biologist. The night before one of the lessons, Malachi found and completed an online fish dissection module to be better prepared. He then shared that online module with his teachers, who taught it to about other 150 students. Amazing!
One student – Malachi Spinks, or “Dr. Spinks,” leads his peers in identifying each organ of the fish. Credit: USFWS
As a biologist with a deep personal connection to nature, I may not fully understand how, but I think these examples are proof people do make a connection to nature via technology. It’s good to remember that making the connection is important, rather than focusing on how they got there.
We have to take advantage of technological opportunities if we're going to keep people caring about wildlife and the work we do.
As Lori’s photos and Malachi’s work show, we are using technology and people do definitely care.