Friday, August 29, 2008

Last Child in the Woods - Louv

I had to share that I just started reading this incredible book by Richard Louv titled "Last Child in the Woods - Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder". Louv's thoughts echo what I have been thinking and saying for years which is that kids today are slowly losing their connection with the "natural" world. Of course, Louv prose is MUCH more eloquent than I and his explanations and research on the presented subjects is excellent.

Here are a couple excerpts from the book:

P.30 - "We tell our kids that traditional forms of outdoor play are against the rules . . . Then we get on their backs when they sit in front of the TV and then we tell them to go outside and play. But where? How? Join another organized sport? Some kids don't want to be organized all of the time.

P. 24 - "Fishing and Hunting . . . are messy - to some morally messy - but removing all traces of that experience from childhood does neither the child nor nature any good."

p. 21 - "Few of us miss the brutal aspects of raising food. For most young people, however, memory supplies no experience for comparison. More young people may be vegetarians or consume food from health food stores, but fewer are likely to raise their own food - especially if that food is an animal.

p. 14 - "Parents, educators, other adults, institutions - the culture itself - may say one thing to children about nature's gifts, but so many of our actions and messages - especially the ones we cannot hear ourselves deliver - are different. And children hear very well."

For more information please see:


  1. I'm always looking for a good read.I have lots of down time on the tug.I will be buying that book.

  2. I wanted to thank you personally for stopping by my blog "themaineoutdoorsman" and sharing your insights. It is much appreciated when someone invests their time in formulating a well thought out comment.

    BTW, these are excellent points:
    (1) We want and need to have contact with other species, but neither we nor Louv bother to ask whether they want to have contact with us! (2) We and Louv never ask what type of contact is appropriate! He includes fishing, hunting, building "forts", farming, ranching, and all other manner of recreation. Clearly, not all contact with nature leads to someone becoming an advocate and protector of wildlife.

    As I mentioned I have just started reading Louv so your comments have come at the right time to allow me to explore his thoughts with critical eyes. I just skimmed over your paper "Wildlife Need Habitat Off-Limits to Humans!" and will complete reading tonight. I just finished reading the trilogy "Red, Green, Blue Mars" about the terraforming of the red planet so the comments in your paper about finding possible life on other planets were sadly amusing . . . "I hope for its sake we don't find life on other planets!"

    Also sitting on my bookshelf is "Seed on the Wind" by a Maine author BIll Geagan that I hope to read soon. It was written decades ago and is suppose to be a "blue print" for raising kids with nature . . . if you have not read you might enjoy.

  3. There isn't one person on this planet that doesn't "exploit" nature so I now challenge anybody to tell me what magic line in the sand divides my ability to participate in life against sitting on the forest floor trying not to breathe... We are a part of this ecosystem, our world is changing and if people want more traditional lifestyles then maybe attitudes like the maine outdoorsman and myself seem to bring us back to the ways of hunting and gathering... There may be a day when people might need the skills developed years ago whereas those "soft" people who don't want interaction in nature will be wondering why that berry just isn't right for consumption... But it looked like the one in the supermarket!!! Until then, I will encourage my child to "exploit" nature in a very simple sense of hunting and gathering... Plus your diet can not be any more natural than the quarry from natural game and natures offerings... So as top of the food chain unless a moose stomps on me, I will continue my good ways and love my life without regret...

    Downeast Duck Hunter

  4. DEDH,

    You are completely correct that it would be impossible not to impact nature in some way even with outdoor hobbies as unobtrusive as photography. The classic line take only pictures and leave only footprints is in and of itself saying that even practicing "minimal" impact camping techniques changes to the environment are imminent.

    In Maine we need to find balance. This is especially apparent with the current health of our deer herd. Years of timber harvesting and poorly designed wilderness management plans have created an issue that will only get worse unless huge steps are taken to correct.

    If I could support myself and family living only off the land, living in a small log cabin, growing vegetables and eating small woodland animals I believe I could be very happy.

    A man once told me that in 50 years time those individuals with land will be the richest in the world. Land allows you to support yourself with hunting grounds, crops for food and wood for warmth. Those of us with skill sets that allow us to "exploit" these resources and survive in adverse conditions will never need to worry about our children going hungry.

  5. I am far from an expert on this topic,however this sounds like a classic case of one of Darwin theories.Only the strongest survive.The only problem is if it just so happened that the economy completely failed and we would have to go back to the so called hunting and gathering days.I am not so sure if I would want to be around.There are entirely to many crazies if you will.It would be nice to see the general world population thinned,b ut going through a literal hell and having to live in a bunker for a few years waiting for the crazies to die off isn't my idea of a good life being close to nature.

  6. Let me see....where to a wildlife biologist, trained (through the level of Ph.D. coursework) in the restoration of endangered species habitat (but currently working on game bird habitat restoration), with 10 years of practical professional experience (not in a lab or office, but in the woods and marshes) under my belt, and also as an avid - rather, RABID - birder, kayaker, surfer, hunter, and angler, I'd like to think that I have something to add to this debate.

    The role of man in nature is a salient point. And I would like to read this book to determine for myself if the author ignores, glosses over, or tackles the point.

    However, the "leave nature alone" argument is done. Well over 90% of natural habitats have been permanently impacted by human activity over the last 10,000 years. Most of our awful handiwork cannot be undone. Streams have been straightened, wetlands filled, rain forests cut and drained, and wildlife hunted to extinction. Where TRULY native habitats and native compatriots exist in their likely preshistoric assemblage (rarely in the developed world, and disappearing in the developing world), you are absolutely right that these areas should be protected, and largely ISOLATED from human disturbance or visitation. So, now that we have covered "the last of the best" habitats, let's get back to the rest of the world.

    We have a gigantic mess on our hands. The habitats of the Eastern United States, in particular, are not what they were 100, 200, 500, or even 1,000 years ago. Human settlement and agricultural practices (burning, deforestation, draining, filling) have destroyed most of the high quality habitats, and natural assemblages of vegetation, fungi, wildlife, and microbes.

    So when you see a bobolink in the northeast, rare as it may be, you are seeing an artifact of human activity. When you see a beautiful herd of healthy deer in Pennsylvania, you are seeing an artifact of human activity. A gorgeous, mature oak-hickory forest? An artifact of our introduction of chestnut blight 100 years ago. And so it goes for most of our "native wildlife" and "native habitat."

    So - we have a few esoteric choices - attempt the impossible task of "observing from a distance" and hoping - really, dreaming - that nature will stay just like it is, and not get any worse (which assumes that we will not introduce any more invasive/non-native parasites, plants, insects, or animals into the USA - an impossible task, given global trade & shipping).

    Or - educate our children on "what is, what was, and what can be" by allowing them to experience the outdoors and see - with their hands - that THEY can have an impact. Every fish they release has an impact on the population. Every 1.5 year old buck they decline to shoot is allowed to grow another year - and may produce its own offspring. Every tree that ISN'T cut down to build a fort will be revered, or at least noticed, by the neighborhood kids.

    Until someone can propose a reasonable alternative to "let's take a snapshot of nature and hope it does not change", I'd just as soon not hear this type of argument again.

    And honestly, for your hypothesis that not all semi-destructive interaction with nature leads to children becoming conservationists, I can easily offer this: every child who DOES NOT engage in outdoor education or outdoor recreation WILL NOT become an advocate for wildlife or nature.

  7. Boys you all impress me . . . I didn't realize my blog posters were all so edumacated! :)

    Swampthing and Mike Vandeman with a Ph.Ds, Rabid Outdoorsman with a Certificate of Advanced Study (Thats 33 credits above a Masters incase anyone cares), David Patterson CAS . . . and even that slacker the Duckman has a Masters! :)

    Swampthing thanks for the comments, they were very well articulated . . . I will write a response next week but now I am off for a fun filled weekend with my two sons. Take Care!

  8. Proud to be a slacker... but don't forget my Doctorate in Duckology, that brings me to the forefront in all things important...

    Dr. Downeast Duck Hunter

    insipience just kills me...

  9. In reply to "We are a part of this ecosystem". Nonsense. We keep nature at arm's length.

    What Is Homo Sapiens' Place in Nature,
    From an Objective (Biocentric) Point of View?
    Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
    July 4, 2002

    "For hundreds of millenia, evolving humanity was a native species … in Africa and Asia. … The modern Races of Homo sapiens were a true alien species when they colonized the rest of the world, from Australia to the New World and finally the distant oceanic islands." E.O. Wilson, p.98.

    "The behaviours animals use to avoid predators are both genetically based and learned. The genetic component is acquired through natural selection and so can only slowly be developed. This may account in part for the fact that most of the world's surviving large mammals live in Africa, for it was there that humanity evolved, and it was only there that animals had the time to acquire the genetically based behaviours that allowed them to cope with the new predator." Tim Flannery, p.198.

    "... his dominance and his faculties for upsetting so much of the rest of life serve to rule him out of what we think of as 'natural' relationships of living things". Paul Errington, p.41.

    "To really come up with something new that's going to allow a species to live in a completely new environment takes a million years." Camille Parmesan

    Many answers have been given to this question, but none, to my knowledge, based on science. Even scientists, apparently, often avoid applying their knowledge when it may be inconvenient (e.g., interfere with our preferred lifestyle). For example, open any biology textbook and find where it defines "exotic species". Do you see any mention of the fact that humans are, throughout most of our range, an exotic species -- or even a discussion of whether we are an exotic species? If biology is so valuable (which I think it is), why do we shy away from using it?

    Another example: it is often claimed that humans are a natural part of our environment -- we are just an animal like any other animal. If that is true, then why aren't humans mentioned in the vast majority of natural histories? The fact is, we consider ourselves a part of our ecosystems when it's convenient (e.g. when we want to justify recreation in wildlife habitat), and not, when it's not convenient (e.g. when choosing where to live: in a house!). When you die, will you re-enter the ecosystem just like any other dead organism? No! We are either cremated, or buried in a box, specifically to avoid the natural process of decay.

    It is obvious that we are a part of nature, or we couldn't touch and interact with it. The real question is Which part of nature are we?

    Biology texts usually define an "exotic species" as one transported by humans to a new location, where it hadn't existed before. However, this is not a good definition, since the effect of the exotic species on its new surroundings has nothing to do with how it got there, but more to do with the fact that it is a newcomer. However, every species was new at some time in the past. So the question is, How long does it take to become a native species?

    I would like to suggest that a length of time that makes sense, biologically, is the time that it takes for the other species in the ecosystem to evolve (i.e., make persistent -- "beneficial" -- genetic changes) to adapt to the newcomer -- say on the order of a million years. This would make humans (Homo sapiens) native only to (part of) Africa, and everywhere else, a relative newcomer -- an exotic species. (This is not a value judgment, but simply a statement of biological fact.)

    Does this mean that we should all move back to Africa? I don't think so -- it wouldn't help! Even in Africa, our behavior changes so rapidly, on an evolutionary scale, that the only things that can evolve fast enough to keep up with us are bacteria and viruses! So even in Africa, we might as well consider ourselves an exotic species.

    But what I do think it means is that we should act with restraint -- with the manners of a guest! What does this mean in practice? I think it means, first of all, to "listen" to other species, and what they are trying to tell us! For example, what is the first thing that every child learns about wildlife? That they don't want us around: that they run away whenever we try to approach them! And then, of course, because we are the curious animals that we are, we proceed to ignore their wishes.

    Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas all had the same experience when they began trying to study apes in the wild: the apes didn't want them around! They "told" the researchers that clearly and unequivocally. Jane couldn't get close to the chimpanzees until she started bribing them with bananas. The gorillas charged Dian and tried to scare her away. And the orangutans pushed over trees toward Birute, apparently trying to kill or intimidate her. The apes desperately need us to deliver their message to the rest of humanity. Although the message is impossible to miss, most humans ignore it. Rather than arguing over to what degree the apes resemble or differ from humans, the most important message that we can derive from studying them is that they want to be left alone!

    This is perhaps a bitter pill, but one that humanity urgently needs to take. With our population increasing rapidly, it is more important than ever to give wildlife what they want, which is also, therefore, what they need: freedom from the pressure, irritation, infection with diseases, and outright danger of the presence of humans. It is utterly inexcusable that we continue extending our hegemony into every square inch of the Earth -- and soon, other defenseless planets as well.

    This is a tall order? Very well, then it is a tall order. But I do not see why we shouldn't aim for what is needed, instead of pretending that less is adequate.


    Ehrlich, Paul R. and Ehrlich, Anne H., Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearances of Species. New York: Random House, 1981.

    Errington, Paul L., A Question of Values. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1987.

    Flannery, Tim, The Eternal Frontier -- An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples. New York: Grove Press, 2001.

    Foreman, Dave, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior. New York: Harmony Books, 1991.

    Knight, Richard L. and Kevin J. Gutzwiller, eds. Wildlife and Recreationists. Covelo, California: Island Press, 1995.

    Noss, Reed F. and Allen Y. Cooperrider, Saving Nature's Legacy: Protecting and Restoring Biodiversity. Island Press, Covelo, California, 1994.

    Stone, Christopher D., Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1973.

    Vandeman, Michael J.,, especially,,, and

    Ward, Peter Douglas, The End of Evolution: On Mass Extinctions and the Preservation of Biodiversity. New York: Bantam Books, 1994.

    "The Wildlands Project", Wild Earth. Richmond, Vermont: The Cenozoic Society, 1994.

    Wilson, Edward O., The Future of Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

  10. Mike,

    I see you point, but to clarify are you are saying that an ecosystem as defined “is a natural unit consisting of all plants, animals and micro-organisms in an area functioning together with all of the non-living physical factors of the environment.” Are you saying that the addition of the human component removes “natural” from the standard definition. Semantics dictates that it is probably more correct to describe it as “human” ecosystems as virtually no surface of the earth today is free of human contact or more neutrally as human-influenced ecosystems? Correct?


    P.S. Read the Mars Series . . . you are totally a "Red".

  11. ST,

    I agree that we have a titanic issue on our hands at this point in even slowing the down the destruction human beings have forced upon the earth. It is unfortunate that we have destroyed and are still destroying our environment at an alarming rate. A hands off approach certainly isn't going to solve this issue. It is my belief that only through education, governmental regulation, population control, etc. will we ever be able to get a handle on the current situation. However, with that said do you want to be the official to tell me I can only have one kid? Or I have to pay a hefty fee if I want two?


  12. "I want to read this" seems like such a poor response after skimming the other comments.

    On a similar topic, I was annoyed when I read in Parents magazine an article about farm stands. It said something along the lines of "Bring your kids to a farm stand so they can see where their produce really comes from - not the grocery store!"

    I say grow a garden with them and REALLY show them where it comes from!

    *closing mouth, stepping off soap box and going to the library*

  13. To answer both you and Mike in one fell swoop, human control won't be necessary (your comment) and yes we are part of a larger ecosystem (Mike's comment). But no, we are big bad awful human beings, we keep nature "at arms length". While many may view this as sort of a pernicious goal of human existence, it still, like focusing on the pristine habitats that Fossey and Goodall studied, only tells PART of the story.

    Perhaps you ask, "Well then how will things ever be set straight?" Let's look for a moment at the India/China border. Two nuclear nations, who hold fully 1/2 of the world's population in their borders. Both have nuclear weapons. Both have extensive sub-standard living conditions, emergency response, and disease control. And neither country raises enough food to feed all of its inhabitants.

    So, reasonably speaking, what would it take for the human population of the earth to be razed by 50%? Not a whole lot. Perhaps the most recent strain of Tb. A giant typhoon followed by mudslides and an outbreak of malaria. Or, widespread starvation followed by regional tension, followed by small-scale nuclear war.

    Our stupidity will be our undoing. The law of entropy most certainly applies to our civiliation on this planet. Like anything else subject to physical or chemical process, we simply "can not stand indefinitely."

  14. Now Mike - sorry - but I can't quite let this go. Based on your opinion, as a responsible inhabitat of this earth, you should be required to stop your own impact on invasive practices on the landscape. For one day, I challenge you to not eat corn, beans, wheat, commercially raised meat, dairy, commercially farmed fish, any commercially produced nuts, berries, fruits, vegetables, or fungi.

    No problem, right - some of us could defer to our own outdoor skills for a life of hunting and gathering. But wait - your hypothesis states that our mere presence on this earth - walking each step, no matter how many times that trail has been walked before - is a moral insult to other beings, who ultimately, by your hypothesis, MUST be more entitled to this planet's resources than human beings. That's the "bitter pill" to which you refer.

    I am confident that none of the sources you cite (beyond yourself)would absolutely not agree with your theory. I know, particularly with EO Wilson, Fossey, and Goodall, that they would reject your theory in favor of (something vaguely like) mine - that human beings, at this point in geologic history, exist at the top of the food chain, and as such, we have the MORAL RESPONSIBILITY to conserve and manage our resources far beyond "production for humans."

    And before you begin bloviating again, let's get back to the original point of this book - children on our planet, certainly our wealthy society, are not even being taught that there is anything worth saving, for any reason at all. Let alone, being exposed to your viewpoint (will you stop eating, wearing clothes, and pooping tonight or tomorrow, since you are so eager to impose this viewpoint on other folks), I can't help but think that an elitist attitude of "Scientists have determined that humans may no longer view nature in person" would produce an absolute catastrophe for protecting "the last of the best" habitats on our small planet.

    Notice that nowhere have I mentioned that "humans have the God-given right to take what we want," but apparently that's exactly how you are interpreting all of our opinions.

    OK, I'm going to bed. I'm taking a bunch of schoolkids to plant native marsh grass tomorrow morning. I'm pretty sure the marsh will appreciate the effort. And the kids will remember it for a lifetime.

  15. Little follow up - I did a little search on what our esteemed president calls, "The Google" and I found out some awesome stuff about Dr. Mike Vandeman.

    First of all, apparently Dr. Vandeman is a psychologist, not a biologist. So while he may not exactly understand invasion mechanisms of exotic plants, he is getting a good laugh about our responses to his zany, bizarre theories.

    Second, I found this great page by some folks called the Backcountry Bicycle Trails Club, (oh no, more environmental destruction of our previously destroyed and compromised eastern suburban woodlands!) called "Frequently Asked Questions about Mike Vandeman."

    I'm sure these guys are awful people ---- Dr. Vandeman obviously thinks so, but it is a hilarious read!

    By the way "Dr. V" - if I can call you that - your home page specifies that you have a "passion" for the biology of frogs and snakes. An actual biologist would typically refer to that as "herpetology."

    So, Dr. V, you can keep on rocking with your efforts to "Close All National Parks," and while you slowly seep into insignificance, the rest of us will be busy working toward a better world.

    By the way, it is outstanding that your recent resume' makes a point to outline that you received "three A's in physics" in college in 1957, and also that you "ranked 37 1/2" in a math contest in college. Don't they usually call that a tie for 37th or 38th? The next time I submit my resume', it will say, not that I received honorable mention in an event, but that I was "ranked third and a half." Hahahahaha!

  16. Hey look - more Vandeman - kicked out of the San Fran Sierra Club...if a "all humans must die" non-biologist can't make it there, where CAN he make it?

    Minutes of the Executive Committee DRAFT
    Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter
    October 14, 2002

    4. EXECUTIVE SESSION: Disciplinary Committee Report
    ExCom met in Executive Session from 8:00 to 8:45 p.m..

    Rizzo reported the outcome of Executive Session:
    Following the Disciplinary Committee report from Rizzo and Stout, a
    MS (Solotar; Macris) for disciplinary action regarding Mike Vandeman
    amended by MS (Bloom; McLean) to be voted on as two separate actions,
    the results as follows:

    1) Motion to remove Mike Vandeman from his appointed position as
    Committee Chair for the Chapter, with reinstatement only by action
    ExCom, was approved with 11 in favor; 0 opposed; 3 abstaining.

    2) Motion to send a letter to the Organizational Effectiveness
    Committee (OEG Com) recommending BOLT (Breach of Leadership Trust)
    to ban Mike Vandeman from holding leadership positions in the Sierra

  17. ST,

    Your comments have me rolling . . . :) I appreciate you taking the time to do some digging. You never know who you are going to meet on this internetgoogle thing!

    Mike, Mike . . . responses?


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