Lack of Public Awareness

Staying Connected: Threats to Wilderness from Lack of Public Awareness

It was once said that if something is not understood, it is not valued; if it is not valued, it is not loved; if it is not loved, it is not protected; and if it is not protected, it is lost. Public surveys have found that people who know about wilderness value it tremendously, yet almost half of Americans simply do not understand what wilderness is, how it shaped our nation, and how they benefit from it. This leaves many, especially today's youth, disconnected from and less likely to support and value wilderness. More than half of wilderness managers who responded to a 2014 national survey identified “disconnected urban audiences” as a threat to wilderness.

Three girls sitting in a tent

Such a prospect may seem dim, yet the publication of Richard Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, has sparked a movement to reconnect children with nature through unstructured play outdoors. The Children and Nature Network, Outdoor Foundation, WildLink, and many other organizations are helping today's young people develop lasting relationships with the natural world to ensure that today's wilderness areas are protected into the future.

A 2015 Journal of Forestry review acknowledged widespread concerns about potential disconnection between American society and American wilderness, but stressed the dynamism of the relationship, with “wilderness stewardship […] a changing and adaptive practice responding to society’s evolving relationship with wilderness.” Trends in wilderness recreation alone, the authors note, don’t reflect all the values the public places on wilderness, or all the relationships people have with these areas, some of which are “less recreational and more spiritual, therapeutic, or even appreciative of wilderness as a refuge from development.” If technological development and pervasiveness continue apace, wilderness may only grow in relevance to society as a haven of remoteness, adventure, and solace.