Battling “nature deficit disorder” through forest monitoring: Planting the seeds of future conservation stewardship

Getting kids into the woods early fosters a deep appreciate of our natural world and has many physical and psychological benefits for their development.  

Travis Belote

For the past few months, we've brought you updates from Montana, where Wilderness Society interns Lily Clarke and Greta Hoffman were conducting collaborative research with the University of Montana on the effects of fire and restoration on forest ecosystems for ecologist Travis Belote. This is their final blog installation.

Children need nature. Unfortunately, a growing number of kids may be suffering from “nature deficit disorder," or the result of too little time spent outside.

A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to work with a group of eager ninth-graders who were devoting their summers to the forest. The student participants of the Youth Forest Monitoring Program experienced various types of field work, including soil sampling, weed monitoring and wildlife tracking. Luckily for us, they spent two weeks working with our team conducting Rapid Forest Assessment.

Training incoming high school students from Lincoln, Montana on forest ecology and monitoring. Photo: Lily Clarke

The first morning we met, we headed up to the Stonewall Mountain area near Lincoln, Montana to put in some plots. The more time we spent with these students, the more we realized how important these kinds of opportunities are. Not many high school freshmen can say they’ve spent their entire vacations working outside for eight hours per day, actively learning about the natural world!

Heading into the woods to collect data with three in-coming freshman students from Lincoln, Montana. Photo: Lily Clarke

Not only does this experience provide a huge advantage for them in the future, but it helps them to form a connection with nature. 

How can we expect future generations to care for something without feeling a connection to it? Kids are spending more time than ever in front of a screen, while the wilderness surrounding them goes unnoticed. If future generations grow up without implanting the seed of compassion for nature, any chance of resistance for the destruction of our wild lands will dissolve.

Programs like the Youth Forest Monitoring Program are the force fighting this pattern. Getting kids involved in and enthralled with nature early on helps to ensure future defenders of wilderness, so that we can keep learning from the wonders of nature in its entirety.

Collecting data with Trump of the Youth Forest Monitoring Program out of Lincoln, Montana. Photo: Lily Clarke