No Louv Lost

On the Range

Richard Louv is not against hunting but he thinks it’s "messy." You are probably asking: Who is Richard Louv and why should I care?

Louv, a journalist and author, writes specifically about children and nature. His best-known work is Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Louv is one of many educators, naturalists, and sociologists recognizing that young people need exposure to natural settings to run, explore and act, well, just a little bit wild. Of this bunch, he is probably one of the more conservative.

And therein lies the problem. Within this growing back-to-nature-for-kids movement, is the threat that young people will be conditioned against both hunting and fishing. In Last Child in the Woods, recipient of the 2008 Audubon Medal, Louv spends only five pages in a rather weak defense of hunting and fishing.

He begins his apologetic by saying: "For reasons that have more to do with emotion than reason, I don’t hunt, nor do I encourage my boys to hunt – and they are appalled at the idea that others hunt."

Louv and his boys not caring to hunt doesn’t bother me, but that his boys are "appalled" at the idea does. What, exactly, has he been teaching his sons? I am not suggesting Mr. Louv is a bad father, he is obviously someone who loves young people and is concerned for their formational wellbeing, but I am bothered by the description "appalled."

To be appalled, according to my Random House edition of Webster’s College Dictionary, means to be "overcome with horror, consternation, fear, or dismay." In reading Louv’s treatise, the only use he seems to have for hunters is pragmatic. "Remove hunting and fishing from human activity," he writes, "and we lose many of the voters and organizations that now work against the destruction of woods, fields, and watersheds. " As for fishing he writes: "Speaking for the fish, I recommend catch-and-release, although taking a few fish home to clean and eat can be a valuable lesson about the source of food." That sentence says a mouthful. Mr. Louv is assuming fish don’t want to be caught and eaten. That’s logical human reasoning but it is hardly definitive for the simple reason that Louv is not a fish; therefore, he can’t speak for fish. Secondly, Louv doesn’t address the mortality rate among released fish nor does he look at fish as a source of food. They are merely for sporting purposes with an occasional object lesson. If Louv has moral equivalency about fishing, we can understand that deer with big brown eyes and larger internal organs are going to give him problems. Killing, field dressing, and butchering a deer is certainly messier than cleaning a brook trout. Granted, Louv’s use of "messy" is metaphorical. He writes: "Yes, fishing and hunting are messy – even morally messy – but so is nature." I suspect it is the "morally messy" that bothers Louv most.

While the subtle political correctness in Last Child in the Woods is bothersome Louv does make some vitally important points. Children, he points out, don’t simply need allotted time in nature; they need the freedom to explore. This spirit of discovery is exactly why so many of us hunt. How many of us haven’t walked an extra mile, or five or ten, simply because we had to know what was over the next hill? Secretly we may have hoped we wouldn’t bag a deer or elk because of the work involved in packing it out, yet on we walked. Distant horizons call to the exploring soul.

Louv stresses children, once having explored, need to build. Again, this is a basic trait of the pioneering spirit; scope out the country then build something for yourself. For many of us it was a tree house or a simple lean-to, but it was ours. Of course, unless one owns land this is hardly possible in today’s world, but it is not impossible. As a rancher, one point in Louv’s book that I appreciate is this: "What if farms and ranches were to become the new schoolyards, offering lessons and hands-on experience in ecology, culture, and agriculture?" My wife and I have been doing this for years. It began with a call from a man in Tyler, Texas who asked if he could send his 14-year-old son, Ryan, to live with us for a couple weeks. Following Ryan were Brandt, Josiah, and Simon from Atlanta. Josiah actually came four times over six years. This year our visitor will be 14-year-old Eli from Harrisburg, PA. We know the value of using a ranch as a classroom to teach life’s lessons through nature.

Louv points out that Norway has had a government-sponsored program between farmers and public school teachers since 1996 and he suggests the American government should do the same and subsidize farmers and ranchers for helping educate schoolchildren. If the government can pay farmers not to plant crops, as they do through some farm subsidies, then he says they can certainly pay them "to plant the seeds of nature in the next generation."

As a rancher, government involvement scares me. There is nothing I dread more than programs and bureaucrats. Well, actually, perhaps there is one thing that scares me more: entire generations growing up with no understanding of the natural world except the views presented by anti-hunting environmental radicals.

Whether you look at this as an agriculturalist or as an outdoorsman, the possibility of nature-deprived children ruling our society is terrifying. We see examples of this already in proposed legislation on municipal, state, and federal levels. Hunters and fishermen need to be actively battling for the hearts and minds of the next generation by rolling up their sleeves and dealing with what is "messy."

Many of Louv’s arguments gripped me initially, especially when he pointed out studies that showed hyperactive children required less medication when given time with nature. But toward the end of the book he wanders off into a field of cow pies -- or more accurately, Cattalo and Beefalo pies –when he resurrects the tired old topic of a Buffalo Commons, a concept first proposed by the Poppers from Rutgers University decades ago.

Louv, borrowing from Wes Jackson of the Land Institute, suggests a new twist to the Poppers’ fancies. Instead of bison populating the prairies he imagines a "winter-resistant cross" between bison and cattle. The idea of crossing domestic cattle and bison is nothing new; its been tried with little success for over 100 years. This crossbreeding program has its problems but it is nowhere near as problematic as Jackson’s grazing plan which Louv seems to endorse. According to Jackson’s vision the animals "will be raised in mobile pens wheeled around the unfenced landscape."

Well, so much for common sense. Just when you think someone might be taking the problems of nature and society seriously, they have to spin out into an intergalactic fantasy zone. Mobile pens wheeled around in unfenced landscapes?

Roger Miller once sang: "You can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd, you can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd, you can’t roller skate in a buffalo herd, but you can be happy if you a mind to."

Be happy, Mr. Louv.