Our growing Nature Naivete: Demonizing the Outdoors in the Digital Age

[Article by contributing writer, pet trainer at Miss Lola’s Academy forWayward Dogs and wildlife enthusiast, Melissa Grant]

“It’s just a matter of time before it engages in a vicious attack of someone’s pet or a human. I don’t think anyone wants their children to watch the coyote viciously attack a beloved family pet.”

“Just a heads up…we have spotted a bobcat several times over the last month in front of people’s houses and on their porches on …………………. intersection. Please keep an extra close eye on your kids and pets”

“Lions, No tigers and multiple bears. Oh my! Those who live in the vicinity of…………., be warned we are having a bear problem. They are no longer afraid of guns and could be a problem”

“Our family was once approached by a cougar on the …………….. trail. Please be careful out there folks!”

Wow, according to social media, this area is really scary! If you were considering moving to our beautiful Snoqualmie Valley you might want to think twice… your “kids and pets” lives may depend on it. Well maybe these are just out of state transplants overreacting to the big bad woods, right? 

Wrong. This is just a small sampling of the dozens of posts on local Facebook groups and it seems the major media stations started the trend of “Monster-fying” the outdoors for likes and clicks. Coyote sightings on the rise, here’s how to keep pet’s safe, says one news site. Mountain Lion acting aggressively in ………….. says another… and still another: (in all caps) LIVESTOCK ATTACK! Unfortunately, we’ve moved away from being nature savvy in the 21st century. Just seeing an animal in daylight is enough to send people into a panic – “It must have RABIES!” 

Gone are the days of most kids joining scouts, playing outdoors all day every day and weekends spent camping and hiking. Many of us have lost touch with our wild spaces and the creatures that live within those spaces. But why does it matter? Times have changed and doesn’t it make sense that we would change too? Says Daryl Ratajczak, who coined the term monster-fying and is a Wildlife biologist specializing in educating people about cougars and bears, “I would like to say the outdoors isn’t for everyone, but it actually is. People need nature – not just for the fresh air and the resources it provides – but for the emotional and physical well-being it fosters within our mind and our body.”

The flip side is also concerning. There are those who are not fearful, but still ill-prepared for the realities of living near our forests and mountains. These people have a “Disneyfied” view of the world and are equally unprepared for a walk in the woods or a weekend camping trip. We hear about them on the 6PM news: how they saw a bear, ran and got lost. Or we see their posts on Facebook about how they lost their dog thinking going off-leash was totally fine and it ran away. Or worst of all, how they tried to take a photo for Instagram, misstepped and now SAR (search and rescue) is recovering their body. 

It matters to our wildlife too. Not being educated has major consequences for conservation and the outdoors. Not understanding how animals behave makes people afraid of harm coming to children and this results in children not playing outdoors. Now they play video games indoors or watch movies that demonize the animals that surround them. This kind of childhood would make instilling a love of the wilderness difficult. 

The fear is unreasonable. There have been only two recorded fatal coyote attacks in the U.S. The odds of being eaten by wolves or a cougar while walking to school are approximately 1 in 6 billion. We do have Black bears that live in close proximity to us, but there is statistically about 1 death per year by black bear in the U.S. Our fears make us more dangerous to them than they are to us. Think about it, your chances of being killed by a wild animal are infinitesimal, yet animals who linger in this area are almost certain to die because of a human. 

That’s right. We hurt them more than they hurt us. Coexisting with wildlife means learning how we affect them and teaching our children to enjoy nature in a positive way. To care about nature and want to protect it for future generations.  We teach children everything from washing dishes to getting dressed, but do we teach respecting nature? Admittedly I’m not a go out and spend days in the wilderness person myself (I’d like a 5-star hotel at the end of my hikes), but I do remember my parents taking the time to take us on hikes and camping trips. We visited zoos and national parks, enjoyed scouting and summer camp. 

So how do we, in this digital age, get the kind of experiences people used to have in a simpler time?

Suggestions for Adults

  • Wildlife for You – Want to learn more about the animals that we see on a daily basis and how to feel more comfortable should you have a “close” encounter? I suggest signing up for a live webinar. You might virtually “meet” my oft quoted friend Daryl Ratajczak during a class on large carnivores. I promise it will make you much more comfortable with our furry neighbors. Many classes are also kid friendly.
  • REI – This homegrown company has local classes and events from Avalanche Awareness to Wilderness first aid. 
  • Alderleaf Wilderness College – If you’re really down to get immersed in the outdoors my friend Jack (who is a Wildlife Tracker) says AWC offers a 2 year course focusing on survival skills, tracking, permaculture, and ethnobotany as well as weekend classes that range from mycology (mushrooms) to basketry. Alderleaf is located in Monroe. 

For the Kids

  • Camp Waskowitz – Waskowitz Outdoor Education center is nestled on the South Fork of the Snoqualmie. Owned and operated by the Highline School District, Waskowitz has provided quality programing for students of all ages within Highline and other partner districts for over 70 years. These programs are traditionally arranged as school field trips. The most recent program is Summer Celebration. A week long Summer Camp for kids entering 5th-8th grade. Waskowitz Summer Celebration provides a repurposed educational adventure, developing skills to strengthen student relationships with nature, people, and themselves. The summer camp offer pathways for kids to “choose their adventure” for the week. These pathways include Culinary, Technology, Sports, Theatre Arts, Art, and Wilderness Exploration. For more information and to learn of registration options please visit Summer Celebration.
  • The Cedar River Watershed Education Center – From the website “A regional education facility created as a gathering place to connect people with the source of their water” The center offers many programs and tours for adults and kids alike to “to learn about the complex issues surrounding the region’s drinking water, forests and wildlife” Their “Wondering about Wildlife” free event is coming up on February 21st at the education center in North Bend. 
  • Wilderness Awareness School – Located in Duvall it Is similar to the Alderleaf Wilderness College but with 1 year programs for adults and children. Their mission is to “help children and adults cultivate healthy relationships with nature, community and self.”
  • Quiet Heart Wilderness School – Is where my friend Jack works.  It is a summer camp but they also have yearlong weekend classes that focus on teaching children naturalist skills. They provide education through exploration and discovery of the Natural world. The are located in Edmonds. 

Any one of these organizations can help reconnect us with nature and understand wildlife issues. Many people will never have the experience of living so close to nature and the creatures that inhabit the wilderness. We are so lucky to be here and should not waste the experience by being fearful. Being a part of the natural world improves our quality of life. Let’s not waste our wonderful opportunity to understand and be a part of this wonderful area. 

Comments

  1. Ethel Renner says

    Thankfully there have only been two deaths from coyotes! How many attacks have there been?

    • “There have been only two recorded fatal coyote attacks in the U.S.”
      Given how that is worded, I believe the time frame involved is “ever”. As in there have only been two recorded deaths from coyotes in the US, ever.

      • Ethel Renner says

        MIke, I was referring to the fact that even though there has been only two deaths there have been over 100 attacks. Some of those would have been fatal as well if someone hadn’t been close enough to intervene.
        Coyotes adapt and become less predictable. When it is put across to others that they are overreacting because there have only been two deaths and people are unnecessarily being over cautious and fearful you are setting up a bad scenario. There is a fine line on being cautious and fearful and especially with small children when it comes to coyotes.
        What do you think would have happened if that 3 yr old’s Dad had not been there to save her or if she hadn’t had her heavy coat on?
        I grew up living in the woods where we had it all pretty much. The woods and swamps were our playgrounds but we were also aware enough to be cautious around the wildlife. Even deer will attack under right circumstances. I was eating an apple one day one wanted and guess who won?

      • I think Ethel’s question was abiut the number of non-fatal attacks. A quick search shows there have been several dozen. And ad you say, only 2 fatal attacks, ever.

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coyote_attack

      • Yes, Mike that is what I meant. I’m sorry Ethel if that wasn’t clear. There have been attacks for sure. I believe up until last year when the little girl was bitten on the ridge, the last one in the state was in 2006. Most attacks (or bites rather) can be traced to humans negligently, either intentionally or unintentionally, feeding them. They become habituated and rather brazen. Another good reason to keep track of our trash and pet food. Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History is a very good way to become more acquainted with these wild canines.

        • Ethel Renner says

          Yes, thanks J.R.! I knew exactly what she meant as you noticed.

        • Ethel Renner says

          Melissa, I knew what you meant and it was very clear to me. However, I cringe when people are told their are overreacting if they warn others or if they are concerned about pets and children. One forgets that there are those who have no clue about wildlife and take you at yuor word, Especially when it involves coyotes and young cougars. Young cougars are often just curious but will react if someone runs or if they fall down. Especially children. Coyotes are becoming too habituated and less predictable and the same scenario can happen. All triggering the prey reaction. I am not against wildlife at all and in fact want to prevent scenarios that could have been prevented only if people had been more cautious and aware. I am not only trying to protect people and pets but also the wildlife itself! I enjoy wildlife and always have. It would be nice to be able to continue to do so.

  2. Ethel Renner says

    If you actually look at attacks there have been numerous ones over the years. Huge difference in number of attacks and two fatal. Others would have been fatal as well if someone had not been able to intervene! I was not asking about how many attacks were fatal! I wanted to have it shown that there have been several attacks that luckily did not end up fatal! My point is one cannot lead people to believe they can be complacent around them just because there has only been two deaths when there has been over a hundred attacks!

  3. Ethel, my purpose was to tell folks how to educate themselves so they wouldnt be quite so fearful. Merely seeing a coyote is no reason to stay inside. If you look at the attacks for Washington State there have only been three. The statistics still show that the likelihood of encountering a problem are very low. I too want people to enjoy the wildlife. This is why i suggest ways to feel more comfortable in their presence.

  4. Ethel Renner says

    Melissa I am sure that is what you meant to do in the end but the beginning sounded more like a put down to those that were warning others and for anyone that was concerned. Yes, they have been and still are around us a lot of the time and most of the time no harms been done. People need to be aware of that and also need to know usually we are not in danger but there can always be unusual circumstances so you don’t ignore the fact they are out there and can be a danger. Wildlife needs to be respected at all times. I am not saying they need to be feared just to be clear! Let people be aware without making them feel as if they are being ignorant for warning others of the presence or being concerned until they are better educated. Better to educate than to denigrate!

Speak Your Mind

*

%d bloggers like this: