Helping young people care: closing the gap between children and nature

By JOHN NEIDER

In today’s world, it is often difficult to get people excited about natural resources conservation. There are a thousand distractions around us every day, and little thought is given to the natural world.

With technology advancing at an unprecedented rate, and with a growing disconnect between children and nature, we are presented with a problem in getting youth interested and involved in conservation today, and it is clearly displayed by the current face of the conservation field.

The average age of a professional in natural resources varies from 43 to 53, depending on the agency, which is going to leave a lot of opportunity available for those young people who are interested in conservation.

However, with recruitment of qualified employees being at an all time low, the future of natural resource management is not looking too bright.

Carroll Soil and Water Conservation is attempting to relieve this condition by assisting with and promoting a high school natural resources knowledge competition, called the Envirothon.

Learning as a tool

It was with the Envirothon and Carroll Soil & Water Conservation District that I first realized the possibility of natural resources as a career. I had always been interested in the outdoors, growing up on a farm as a child, but had never fully realized the possibilities that were available.

My junior year of high school, Linda Yeager with Carroll SWCD was promoting the Envirothon competition in my agricultural education program at Carrollton High School.

Having some previous experience in natural resources programs, I thought this competition would be fun. Several other students and I, with Linda’s help, went to the local competition and placed second in the area.

This inspired us to take our knowledge to the next level and go to the state competition. SWCD was extremely supportive, as our school had never had a team go to the state competition.

Our hard work, and the support of those around us, enabled us to place third in the state of Ohio and first out of all the first-year teams.

Conservation success

Competing in the Envirothon got me excited about conservation, and piqued an interest in me that continues to this day. I decided it was the direction I wanted to take with my career.

It led me to many great experiences while attending college for Wildlife and Fisheries at West Virginia University — working on natural resources projects in California, North Dakota, Idaho, West Virginia and now right here in Carroll County for the Soil and Water Conservation District.

As I go forth from here to another position in the West, working for a state agency and obtaining my master’s degree on a climate and wildlife project, I am constantly reminded of how important the Envirothon was to my development as a professional in conservation.

It got me excited about conservation and I can only hope to further harness this excitement to accomplish more real and permanent good in the future.

The bottom line is that without the foundation SWCD helped foster when I was young, I would not have this opportunity.

The final call

From personal experience I can attest to the power of SWCD programs to motivate young people and get them excited about conservation. It is this excitement that must be fostered and enhanced to ensure we have any natural resources in the future.

For we cannot have a future if we forget about the present, and this present is currently in the hands of our young people.

Without the Envirothon and SWCD, I doubt I would have become as excited as I did about conservation, and I certainly would not be where I am today.

I now try, as most SWCDs do, on every possible occasion to get young people excited about the outdoors, the Envirothon and SWCD and to feel just how great it is to be working outside.

(Neider, currently a watershed specialist with Carroll SWCD, recently accepted a position to work with the Idaho Department of Fish & Game and obtain a master’s degree.)

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