Children increasingly disconnected from nature

Some of my very first and best memories (I must have been about 3 years old) are of the outdoors. By that I don’t mean the lawn or a favorite tree.

My grandfather located and developed mining properties . . . unsuccessfully when I was boy because he was in his mid-70s, but he recruited my father and uncles to help during the summer.

I recall that for day after day, they would climb up the mountain above Hyrum, Utah. I’d ride on my father’s back. Later they build a road and we’d go up in the truck to the Moon Mine prospect.

While they worked, I was left to sit on edge of the prospect surrounded by sagebrush with a view of Cache Valley, Utah spread below. There was the occasional rattlesnake, the mountain slope was a slightly steep, I might have been stung by a bee, perhaps there were scorpions. The situation would be regarded as incorrect by those who give advice on child rearing.

It was wonderful . . . glorious!!. The world was so new, green, and the valley with the Wellsvelle Mountains rising on the other side seemed endless. To me the world was welcome and so right. I have never stopped loving the outdoors.

While only a few children have an experience like that, my path was already partially set. I never stopped loving the outdoors.

Today few children are given a connection to the outdoors. Undue fear of hazards, dangerous people, and the enticements of video games, television, and the computer stand in the way.

As far as formal education, 8 years of George Bush’s misconceived “no child left behind” that ignores physical activity and outdoor education, has already ruined half of generation. This will have profound  negative effects for our future.

The article below worries about Montana’s outdoor recreation economy, but the problem is much deeper than that.

Numbers bode poorly for recreation tourism. By Daniel Person. Bozeman Chronicle Staff Writer






  1. Monty Avatar

    Ralph: excellent points. As I live in an area surrounded by National Forest lands, I spend much of my time hiking & looking for wildlife. I also spend a lot of my time removing litter along forest service roads. Far too many forest visitors are completely devoid of ethics: they drink their beer & discard the cans, discharge their shot-guns and leave a hundred shell casings in the middle of a road, blow away small trees with their shot-guns, leave human waste adjacent to streams & so on. This is what children are learning from their parents.

  2. jerry b Avatar
    jerry b

    Richard Louv has written a book..”Last Child in the Woods, Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder”
    He talks about “un-plugging ” our kids from TV, internet etc.
    I’m sure that I’m preaching to the choir on this blog, but you might recommend it to your friends, teachers etc.

  3. vicki Avatar

    I grew up outdoors. I think it has a lot to do with independent character and my passion for sharing nature with others.
    I love taking kids to YNP who have never been there before. I also drag them outdoors and teach many to fish, and I have the privelegde of being there when these kids see their first elk or moose, or bear. I also get to experience their joy when they catch a fish or figure out how to pitch a tent. God’s greatest gift to camp fires may be smores.
    I personally feel tha every child who graduates from a publci school is entitled to an outdoor education field trip. We have a responsibility to give them that.
    I know here in Colorado many students in 6-8 grade get to take a trip to the YMCA for a three day outdoor education experience. I went with my 6th grade son last year. He has grown up in the woods, and felt like such a leader being able to tell the other children about what he knows like the back of his hand.
    If parents could see the look of fascination and inncocence in their child’s eyes when they get to track an animal, or examine bones… they’d be so inspired. I know I am every time I take someone new.
    If each of us here, on this blog, reached out to one child who hasn’t had the good fortune to have family to take them outdoors… think of the lives we’d better, and the hearts of future voters we would have won.

  4. TPageCO Avatar

    The absolute best essay I’ve ever read on kids in the woods is Barry Lopez’ piece in his collection “Crossing Open Ground”. Can’t remember the title of the essay, but it has always stayed with me. Recommended for those with kids (and without).

  5. Heather Avatar

    My fondest memories of my life are of my childhood, spent barefoot, running along trails in the forests behind my house on the East Coast. Ferns, snakes, decid. trees abounded. Birds, lightening bugs, toads and frogs. That is what my summers were. They were wonderful and they made me what I am today. Of course I did not have the outlook of killing everything I saw, but appreciating it’s wisdom to live in a wild world, and wishing I could be a part of that… Call me liberal left, now, but really that is probably what you would have liked as a kid.

  6. Nathan Hobbs Avatar

    The scary part is these disconnected children will one day be leaders of national, state and local governments who will make the decisions that impact our public lands.

  7. Mike Post Avatar
    Mike Post

    Each of us who have a passion for conserving the outdoors, regardless of where we fall on specific issues, needs to be mentoring a youngster to follow our path. We can bitch about the education system, the republicans, and who ever but the real responsibility lies with us. If you don’t have a son or daughter, then take your neice or your younger cousin and introduce them to the wild and the things that happen there. Several of the posts here reflect just that very thing. Someone took the time and energy to help one kid get the message and then lead a life of involvement. My daughter has seen the wilderness, and the blood that comes with it sometimes, and now I am helping my grandson and my wonderful but clueless son-in-law to make all the same wonderful dicoveries. I would challenge each person who reads and posts to this blog to at least ask themselves what have they have done recently to keep their work and passion alive in the next generation.

  8. vicki Avatar

    I couldn’t agree more.
    Hey, clueless is a good place to start, no retraining involved.
    Keep it up! I hope our paths cross some day!

  9. Mike Post Avatar
    Mike Post

    …and to add some graphic reality to this problem are two odd stories that most people find hard to believe but they do illustrate what is happening. In West Hollywood California a series of posters were placed on poles describing a found cat. The cat was described as black and gray, very afraid and hard to handle. A local phone number was also listed for the lucky owner. 3 pictures were also included on the poster which clearly showed a possum!
    Next, in Colorado of all places a doctor (read that as highly educated) saw a stray cat come in thru his dog door so he picked it up by the scruff of the neck to throw it outside at which time the adult racoon bit him, shattering bones in his hand and sending him in for rabies treatments and reconstructive surgery. And there is no end to these sad but true stories…

  10. Lou Avatar

    I’m seeing this more and more often… There’s a disconnect happening across the country. I fear thhat Chief dan George’s words willl come back to haunt us… What we do not know, we fear and what we fear we destroy.

  11. jimbob Avatar

    Well-written, Ralph. There is another HUGE problem with Bush’s ill-conceived NCLB law: It is influenced and beholden to Bush/Cheney’s Energy Gods. There never will be any true environmental awareness or ecosystem component to any of the education set forth by the Republican administration within this law. They forced so much physical science and chemistry into the curriculum to be tested that it leaves little time for anything else! Don’t you think this is also by design? The natural world has been the declared enemy of the Bush admin. from the beginning. I’d expect nothing else from their education law. Look what happened to the Wyoming University funding for environmental ed. when they pissed off the oil companies. This stuff needs to be exposed!


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan