You might be thinking "what does he mean, 'what is a frog?' It's green, hops, eats flies and goes 'ribbit, ribbit.'" It seems like a pretty easy question, but two out of five kids, ages nine-to-11, when showed a picture of just that animal, could not identify it. Another stumper for the youth in the survey was a picture of an oak tree. More than half of the 700 participants, all students in England, could not identify the acorn-producing species - their own national tree. Other apparently hard-to-identify organisms for half of the group included the daddy long legs and the bluebell.
This survey shows that the trend we fear as sportsmen in the United States is not unique to our country, which despite having a greater land mass and more open area in comparison to the UK, we both still struggle to get kids off the couch and into the outdoors. At the risk of sounding old, a "when I was your age" tirade is in order.
When I was nine, every summer day consisted of chasing frogs, crayfish and turtles along the shores of the Sheyenne River in the city park. When I wasn't doing that, I was playing little league, or fishing, or biking, or hiking in the nature trails near the local college campus. Not only could I identify a frog, I could tell you when it laid its eggs, its preferred habitat, and how to care for it in a terrarium. Each August, our block was a crunchy mess from the acorns that littered the lawns, sidewalks and gutters, so to say I could identify such a tree was an understatement.
Though the results of the survey came from across the pond, my guess is if a similar survey was released to kids showing pictures of common wildlife such as deer, loons, meadowlarks, salamanders, hawks, jackrabbits and coyotes, we'd be lucky to see American children get half of the answers right. The reasons for this are many, though most of them don't make for very good excuses.
As a follow-up to the survey, the conducting group asked where the activity of "playing outdoors" ranked in the children's lives. Overall, it was dead last on the list topped by "playing on the computer." In the age where one can buy a game for Nintendo's Wii, or Sony's PS3 and simulate strumming a guitar, going bowling, playing tennis, casting a line or shooting a deer, these once enriching activities have been replaced by poor virtual substitutes that do not deliver the benefits of the actual experiences.
With summer winding down and the excitement of bird and deer hunting fast approaching, now is the time to take a stand for the future of our hunting and angling environments. It is up to us - the hunters and anglers of America, and the world - to show our youth the importance of wildlife and the fun one can have in the outdoors.
Take a kid fishing this weekend. Plan for deer season months in advance and go scouting one night a week, building excitement and anticipation for the hunt. Show them that what is zipping across their computer screen is no substitute for what's flying through the air or crawling in the grass of their own backyard. And for goodness' sake, show them what a frog looks like, just to be safe.
The future depends on it. As the trend of children losing touch with the outdoors continues, the hope for conservation, and the heritage of fishing and hunting go with them. With fewer members of the next generation enjoying and preserving those things we hold dear, from the chorus of spring peepers to the pursuit of walleye and whitetail, the fewer advocates we will have to defend those things in the future; making it even harder for future generations to identify with anything that swims, runs or croaks...in our outdoors.