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A recent report published in the Proceedings of the National Academey of Sciences entitled Evidence for a fundamental and pervasive shift away from nature-based recreation by Oliver Pergams and Patricia Zaradic shows that after 50 years of steady increase, the per capita visits to U.S. National Parks have declined since 1987. The authors looked at a variety of measurements and conclude that "all major lines of evidence point to an ongoing and fundamental shift away from nature-based recreation." You can read a PDF of the full study on their excellent Web site Videophilia Web Site.
Oliver and Patricia's latest paper is a follow-up on an earlier article published in the Journal of Environmental Management entitled "Is love of nature in the US becoming love of electronic media?" In these works and Videophilia.org the authors site the increase in TV and computer use in children as one important factor in the decline in their involvement with the outdoors mirroring the work of Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods) and others.
Their research is confirmed by various reports by the Outdoor Industry Foundation.
All of this research raises fundamental questions about the next generation of outdoor users. Where will they come from if the current trends aren't reversed? The other side of this tidal current is the push by a growing movement of "No Child Left Inside" programs to bring outdoor experiences and education back into the lives of children. The National Association of Environmental Educators and other organizations ares supporting changes to HR 3036 No Child Left Inside Act 2007. It's clear to me that outdoor involvement in the U.S. will continue to erode with concerted action on connecting children to the outdoors.
You can read more about Oliver and Patricia's work in the follow Web sites:
Let me know what you think about this at the General Forum here on Outdoor Ed.
Evidence for a fundamental and pervasive shift away from nature-based recreation
Oliver R. W. Pergams and Patricia A. Zaradic
After 50 years of steady increase, per capita visits to U.S. National Parks have declined since 1987. To evaluate whether we are seeing a fundamental shift away from people's interest in nature, we tested for similar longitudinal declines in 16 time series representing four classes of nature participation variables: (i) visitation to various types of public lands in the U.S. and National Parks in Japan and Spain, (ii) number of various types of U.S. game licenses issued, (iii) indicators of time spent camping, and (iv) indicators of time spent backpacking or hiking. The four variables with the greatest per capita participation were visits to Japanese National Parks, U.S. State Parks, U.S. National Parks, and U.S. National Forests, with an average individual participating 0.74–2.75 times per year. All four time series are in downtrends, with linear regressions showing ongoing losses of –1.0% to –3.1% per year. The longest and most complete time series tested suggest that typical declines in per capita nature recreation began between 1981 and 1991, are proceeding at rates of –1.0% to –1.3% per year, and total to date –18% to –25%. Spearman correlation analyses were performed on untransformed time series and on transformed percentage year-to-year changes. Results showed very highly significant correlations between many of the highest per capita participation variables in both untransformed and in difference models, further corroborating the general downtrend in nature recreation. In conclusion, all major lines of evidence point to an ongoing and fundamental shift away from nature-based recreation.
Is love of nature in the US becoming love of electronic media? 16-year downtrend in national park visits explained by watching movies, playing video games, internet use, and oil prices
Oliver R.W. Pergams and Patricia A. Zaradic
After 50 years of steady increase, per capita visits to US national parks have declined since 1988. This decline, coincident with the rise in electronic entertainment media, may represent a shift in recreation choices with broader implications for the value placed on biodiversity conservation and environmentally responsible behavior. We compared the decline in per capita visits with a set of indicators representing alternate recreation choices and constraints. The Spearman correlation analyses found this decline in NPV to be significantly negatively correlated with several electronic entertainment indicators: hours of television, (rs=-0.743, P<0.001), video games (rs=-0.773, P<0.001), home movies (rs=-0.788, P<0.001), theatre attendance (rs=-0.587, P<0.025) and internet use (rs=-0.783, P<0.001). There were also significant negative correlations with oil prices (rs=-0.547, P<0.025), foreign travel (rs=-0.452, P<0.05), and Appalachian Trail hikers (rs=-0.785, P<0.001). Income was significantly positively correlated with foreign travel (rs=0.621, P<0.005) but negatively correlated with national park visits (rs=-0.697, P<0.005). There was no significant correlation of mean number of vacation days, indicating available vacation time is probably not a factor. Federal funding actually increased during this period, and so was rejected as a probable factor. Park capacity was rejected as limiting since both total overnight stays and visits at the seven most popular parks rose well into the mid-1990s. Aging of baby boomers was also rejected as they are only now reaching retirement age, and thus during the period of visitation decline were still of prime family vacation age. Multiple linear regression of four of the entertainment media variables as well as oil prices explains 97.5% of this recent decline (r=0.975, multiple r2=0.950, adjusted multiple r2=0.925, SE=0.015, F=37.800, P<0.0001). We may be seeing evidence of a fundamental shift away from people's appreciation of nature (biophilia, Wilson 1984) to ‘videophilia,’ which we here define as “the new human tendency to focus on sedentary activities involving electronic media.” Such a shift would not bode well for the future of biodiversity conservation.
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