Councilman proposes new naturalist position

Wednesday, August 29, 2007 | 6:19 p.m. CDT; updated 3:21 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

A full-time community naturalist could be a part of the city’s Parks and Recreations Department if a proposal by Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade is accepted into the city’s budget for the next fiscal year.

Wade proposed the idea to the rest of the City Council as an amendment to the city’s 2008 budget at a work session on Monday.

Although a job description has not been written, Wade said a naturalist could create a new outdoor education program primarily aimed at children, using habitats at local parks.

“It would be about creating experiences in nature ... doing it in a way that is fun and allows children to begin using their inquisitiveness and creativity,” Wade said.

Wade’s inspiration came from the book, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” by Richard Louv. The book argues that American children suffer from a lack of exposure to the outdoors.

Mike Hood, Parks and Recreation director, said the city has no salary classification for a naturalist and he could not say how much one might be paid.

“Planning is at a pretty preliminary stage,” Hood said.

Wade envisions the job as a three-year year position, with a possible funding split between the city and other outside partners. The Missouri Department of Conservation could be a partner, but Hood said no one has been approached.

Wade said he thought there might be possibilities to partner with Columbia Public Schools or community groups.

The Parks Department already has a few outdoor education programs, such as Camp Adventure, a summer day camp for children, but there is no full-time naturalist.

Not including this job, the total 2008 fiscal year budget for the Parks and Recreation division is $12.5 million, a 1.4 percent increase from last year. If created, the position would be the second new one for Parks and Recreation to be added in fiscal 2008, which begins Oct. 1. Money is already included for an engineering aide who will work on major projects that were approved by voters in 2005.

The naturalist would have to be added to the budget as an amendment by the council, which is conducting a series of public hearings on the budget at its regular meetings. The next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers at the Daniel Boone City Building, 701 E. Broadway.

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Mike Vandeman August 30, 2007 | 10:35 a.m.

Last Child in the Woods ––
Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,
by Richard Louv
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
November 16, 2006

In this eloquent and comprehensive work, Louv makes a convincing case for ensuring that children (and adults) maintain access to pristine natural areas, and even, when those are not available, any bit of nature that we can preserve, such as vacant lots. I agree with him 100%. Just as we never really outgrow our need for our parents (and grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.), humanity has never outgrown, and can never outgrow, our need for the companionship and mutual benefits of other species.

But what strikes me most about this book is how Louv is able, in spite of 310 pages of text, to completely ignore the two most obvious problems with his thesis: (1) We want and need to have contact with other species, but neither we nor Louv bother to ask whether they want to have contact with us! In fact, most species of wildlife obviously do not like having humans around, and can thrive only if we leave them alone! Or they are able tolerate our presence, but only within certain limits. (2) We and Louv never ask what type of contact is appropriate! He includes fishing, hunting, building "forts", farming, ranching, and all other manner of recreation. Clearly, not all contact with nature leads to someone becoming an advocate and protector of wildlife. While one kid may see a beautiful area and decide to protect it, what's to stop another from seeing it and thinking of it as a great place to build a house or create a ski resort? Developers and industrialists must come from somewhere, and they no doubt played in the woods with the future environmentalists!

It is obvious, and not a particularly new idea, that we must experience wilderness in order to appreciate it. But it is equally true, though ("conveniently") never mentioned, that we need to stay out of nature, if the wildlife that live there are to survive. I discuss this issue thoroughly in the essay, "Wildlife Need Habitat Off-Limits to Humans!", at

(For the rest, see

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