Saving Nature Through Community Connection

March 23, 2023, Department, by Carolyn F. McKnight-Fredd

Carolyn McKnight Fredd 410

For an enhanced digital experience, read this story in the ezine.

In January, The Revelator published an article that lists 24 species that were declared extinct in 2022 — “including two frogs, one of the world’s biggest fish, an orchid from Florida, a grass from New Hampshire and many others” — and links to a study that claims as many as 562 more have potentially been lost.

Another troubling fact raised by The Revelator is that the more nature we lose, the more disconnected we become from it. “Increasingly, research has shown that as species and ecosystems vanish, it also chips away at our ability to preserve what remains — because we no longer understand what we’re losing,” says author John R. Platt. According to the article, as children and families spend less time outdoors, they become more detached from — and, in turn, more afraid of — nature and wildlife. This phenomenon, known as “biophobia,” causes apathy toward wild spaces and species, making it exponentially more difficult to galvanize the movement for conservation.

The facts cited in these articles make evident that access to and experience within nature are critical to protecting the lands and wildlife that are vital to a healthy future for our planet and our communities. And for many people, their connection to nature begins with their local parks. Whether attending an environmental education program, picnicking at a neighborhood green space, biking local trails or harvesting crops at a community garden, the programs and spaces run and maintained by park and recreation professionals are where the vast majority of our community members are likely to fall in love with the outdoors.

Not only does support for nature lead to local actions, but also it prompts national objectives, such as the Biden administration’s “America the Beautiful” initiative. Areas of focus identified within the initiative include creating more parks and safe outdoor opportunities in nature-deprived communities; supporting Tribally-led conservation and restoration priorities; expanding collaborative conservation of fish and wildlife habitats and corridors; increasing access for outdoor recreation; incentivizing and rewarding voluntary conservation efforts of fishers, ranchers, farmers and forest owners; and creating jobs by investing in restoration and resilience — all areas where parks and recreation has a direct impact. “There are hundreds of locally supported conservation and restoration efforts already underway in communities across America…that can be advanced over the coming decade to strengthen our economy, fight climate change, address environmental injustice, and improve outcomes for fish, wildlife, and people,” states the initiative report. Many of these local efforts begin with our town, city, and county park and recreation agencies.

This Earth Day, how are you and your agency encouraging your community to celebrate nature? By providing our community members with opportunities to engage with the natural world, we can develop future generations of people who feel connected to — and, in turn, compelled to protect — the wild spaces and species that make our world healthy and vibrant.

Carolyn F. McKnight Fredd, Chair, NRPA Board of Directors