The Cascade Forest Conservancy is actively working to create opportunities for local kids to get out into nature and to take part in meaningful conservation projects. We have been working to address the growing disconnect between our nation’s children and the natural environment. The Young Friends of the Forest program connects with local schools in offering middle school and high school students an opportunity to become part of real conservation programs and environmental science research in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. There are opportunities to take part in on-the-ground projects such as setting up wildlife cameras to monitor carnivore species, conducting invasive plant surveys along remote hiking trails, monitoring stream health, surveying forest restoration sites, or using GPS to explore culvert function and road impacts. In addition to providing kids an opportunity to be out in nature, our trips offer a unique opportunity to teach valuable lessons about science, geography, resource management, the environment, and our personal connections to the outdoors.
It is the goal of the CFC to foster new connections to the amazing natural resources of the Pacific Northwest and to create and instill a lasting stewardship ethic among our community’s youth. As technology continues to take an increasingly dominant role in the lives of our children, we are seeing an unprecedented shift downward in the amount of time our children spend interacting with nature and the environment outdoors, and a rapid shift upward in the amount of time they sit behind digital screens. Coined by author Richard Louv, ‘nature deficit disorder’ results from children spending little time outdoors interacting with the natural environment. Studies from around the globe reveal the physical and emotional impacts on today’s increasingly sedentary and digitally focused youth. The same research offers much needed hope regarding nature’s capacity for renewal, discovery, and overall well-being. Our goal with the Young Friends of Forest program is to coordinate and lead fun and engaging trips to our surrounding forest lands while teaching valuable lessons about our forests and collecting data integral to the planning needs of the GPNF.