The Senate overwhelmingly approved a major conservation bill worth billions on Wednesday. The Great American Outdoors Act provides a stimulus to nationwide conservation projects, outdoor recreation and maintenance of national parks and other public lands, according to AP News. The bill's supporters say the legislation would be the most significant conservation legislation enacted in nearly half a century.
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This Saturday, June 6, marks National Trails Day, an annual celebration of the remarkable recreational, scenic and hiking trails that crisscross parks nationwide. The event, which started in 1993, honors the National Trail System and calls for volunteers to help with trail maintenance in parks across the country.
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A video of an incident in Central Park last Monday, in which a white woman named Amy Cooper called the cops on African American birder Christian Cooper after he asked her to put her dog on a leash, went viral last week, raising awareness of the racism Black people face for simply trying to enjoy nature.
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In another reversal of Obama-era regulations, the Trump administration is having the National Park Service rescind a 2015 order that protected bears and wolves within protected lands.
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The Trump administration has attempted to plow forward with its plans to open up public lands to drilling for oil and gas exploration. To do so, it has continued to hold public meetings over Zoom. That means that Native American groups who often have spotty internet service or no service at all are not able to participate in the public meetings, according to The Washington Post.
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If you're looking to get outside and enjoy the remarkable vistas that the U.S. national parks offer, you may be in luck. Some national parks are planning a phased reopening.
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By Stephen Lezak
Across the United States, local authorities have sealed off public parks and open spaces, blaming visitors who failed to maintain social distance.
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You can be forgiven for not realizing that we're in the midst of National Park Week. After all, spring is in the air but you're probably missing the great outdoors.
Old Faithful Geyser Webcam<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vbWVkaWEucmJsLm1zL2ltYWdlP3U9JTJGd2ViY2Ftcy15ZWxsJTJGb2xkZmFpdGhmdWwuanBnJmhvPWh0dHBzJTNBJTJGJTJGd3d3Lm5wcy5nb3Ymcz0yMDUmaD1hYjQ0NDUxMTlmNDFmZTI0MWM5ZTBiMzk0MjRmZTNlYzJlNjljMzlmYTI0ZDNiMDVlYWViZGUzNDcwM2M1ODJmJnNpemU9OTgweCZjPTM3MjI4MzgzNTYiLCJleHBpcmVzX2F0IjoxNjI1NjI5NzU4fQ.rnf0uOJ4e6qzF4cRop0t4-YP9NgEgCF6FrOOhvLvoXY/img.jpg" id="a8aac" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5ce9de9893f0d33af5ad377f264fbd8a" />
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by Andrea Germanos
The Trump administration on Friday released a new land use plan for southwestern Colorado that community and conservation advocacy groups warn is a "dangerous" pathway towards increased fossil fuel extraction that makes no "climate, ecological, or economic sense."
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By John R. Platt
What do we lose when natural spaces and species disappear?
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.
A butterfly photographed in the greenhouse at Igashira Park, Tochigi Prefecture. Takashi Hososhima / CC BY-SA 2.0<p>Soga said their survey echoed findings from around the world. For example, a 2014 study of 1,100 students in China elicited <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320714002389" target="_blank">similar emotional reactions</a> — and, like the Japanese study, found that direct contact with nature helped to turn biophobia into <a href="https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674074422&content=reviews" target="_blank"><em>biophilia</em></a>, the term popularized by biologist E.O. Wilson to refer to human connection with other forms of life.</p><p>Although the children's reactions were somewhat expected, the new study did contain an unexpected finding: Many of the surveyed children revealed that their <em>parents</em> also expressed fear or disgust of the same invertebrates. In fact these parental emotions were strong enough to overwhelm any positive experiences the children might have gained from direct experiences in nature.</p><p>As Soga and his coauthors wrote in their paper, "Our results suggest that there is likely a feedback loop in which an increase in people who have negative attitudes towards nature in one generation will lead to a further increase in people with similar attitudes in the next generation — a cycle of disaffection towards nature."</p><p>And that's possibly the greater threat posed by extinction of experience. Soga suggests the generational loss — a condition previously dubbed <a href="https://depts.washington.edu/hints/publications/Childrens_Affiliation_Nature.pdf" target="_blank">environmental generational amnesia</a> — could chip away at our societal ability to preserve what we're losing.</p><p>"I believe that increased biophobia is a major, but invisible, threat to global biodiversity," Soga said. "As the number of children who have biophobia increases, public interest and support for biodiversity conservation will gradually decline. Although many conservation biologists still consider that preventing the loss of wildlife habitat is the most important way to conserve biodiversity, I think preventing increased biophobia is also important for conservation."</p><p>What's to be done about this? The paper makes several recommendations, the most obvious of which is that children should experience nature more often. The authors also suggest establishing policies to guide these natural experiences and increasing educational programs about the natural world.</p><p>Helping parents to see species around them in a new light would make a difference, too.</p><p>And, of course, maintaining support for preserving the wild spaces where these "scary" and "icky" creatures live is the most important thing of all.</p><p>That's a point reinforced by another recent study, which found that wild spaces located within urban areas — and the plants and animals that thrive in them — are particularly important for human health and well-being.</p><p>Published in the journal <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frsc.2020.00002/full" target="_blank">Frontiers in Sustainable Cities</a>, the study examined attitudes toward Discovery Park, the heavily forested 534-acre public park in Seattle, Washington. It found that the public had the most appreciation for — and gained the most value from — the wildest parts of the park.</p><p>"I have seen orca whales, seals, fish, eagles, herons, shorebirds and many other sea creatures in their natural habitat," one survey participant wrote. "Going here with people has allowed me to connect and talk with them about conversation that simply does not happen in everyday life," wrote another.</p>
An orca dorsal fin seen from Discovery Park with West Point lighthouse in background. Seattle Parks / Discovery Park Staff / CC BY 2.0<p>The participants reported that their most valuable experiences in the park included encountering wildlife, walking through open spaces, exploring the beach and finding beautiful views.</p><p>"We saw that a large majority of participants' interactions, especially their <em>most</em> meaningful interactions, depended on Discovery Park's relative wildness," said lead author Elizabeth Lev, a master's student in the University of Washington's <a href="https://depts.washington.edu/hints/index.shtml" target="_blank">Human Interaction With Nature and Technological Systems Lab</a>.</p><p>This is only possible because the park <em>is</em> relatively wild. After all, you can't enjoy watching birds if there are no birds to follow; gaze at the sunset if it's obscured by skyscrapers; or stop and smell the flowers if they don't have room to grow.</p>
Bald eagle at Discovery Park. Brandon Trentler / CC BY 2.0<p>And yet even this long-protected space could someday become less hospitable to nature. Over the past few years a lot of people and organizations have suggested developing parts of Discovery Park or the neighboring area. Most recently a plan proposed building <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/yes-to-affordable-housing-but-not-in-discovery-parks-backyard/" target="_blank">34 acres of much-needed affordable housing</a> and parking spaces adjacent to the park, bringing with them noise, traffic and pollution.</p><p>If anything like that happened, both the park and the people of Seattle could lose something vital. And that would continue the trend of chipping away at Seattle's — and the world's — natural spaces, leaving just tiny pocket parks and green-but-empty spaces that offer little <em>real</em> value to wildlife, plants or people.</p><p>"It is true that any interaction with nature is better than none, but I don't want people to be satisfied with any small bit of grass and trees," Lev said. "We have been in this cycle of environmental generational amnesia for a long time, where the baseline keeps shifting and we don't even realize what we're losing until it's gone. If we can get people to understand how much meaning and value can come from having more experiences with more wild forms of nature, then maybe we can stop this cycle and move toward conserving and restoring what we have left."</p><p>Building this understanding in an ever-more fearful and disconnected world may be the biggest challenge. Peter Kahn, the senior author of Lev's paper and the director of the Human Interaction with Nature lab, made several suggestions for bridging this gap in this 2011 book, <a href="https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/technological-nature" target="_blank"><em>Technological Nature</em></a>. They echo the recommendation about getting children into nature, but also include telling stories of how things used to be, imagining what things might be like in the future, and developing a common language about nature, "a way of speaking about wild and domestic interaction patterns, and their wide range of instantiations, and the meaningful, deep and often joyful feelings that they engender."</p><p>No matter what techniques we use, this growing field of research illustrates that saving nature requires encouraging people to experience it more often and more deeply. That calls for additional research — Lev and her coauthors have published a <a href="https://digital.lib.washington.edu/researchworks/handle/1773/43788" target="_blank">toolkit</a> that other municipalities can follow to study the value of their own wild spaces — and clear communication of the results.</p><p>"If we can continue to characterize and show people the benefits of these wild spaces," Lev said, "maybe people will begin to see more value in keeping these areas undeveloped — for the sake of our mutual benefit."</p>