Monday, April 21, 2008

"Let's Play" Birmingham News Earth Day Commentary

My latest Earth Day Commentary.  It appeared in the Birmingham News on April 20, 2008.


My four-year-old daughter is a princess.   No really, she wears crowns and tiaras most of the day, flowing dresses and silver sparkling shoes. One of her most prized possessions is a Canadian coin with Queen Elizabeth on it.
A few weeks ago, my princess had a transformative experience. 
She and I went out to see the Dick’s Sporting Goods Outdoor Adventure Road Tour, where there was a paddle/canoe demonstration and a huge fish tank, with professional fishermen showing folks how to fish.  It was the fish that got her, literally “hooked.”   She was mesmerized by the fishermen and the fish, and afterwards my little princess was begging me to buy her a “Barbie” fishing pole.  Since then, her favorite activity is walking around as a princess, tiara included, and casting her fishing pole line – pretend fishing on the banks of local creeks. She absolutely loves being outside, albeit on her own unique, royal terms.
I’m sharing this story because every year, right before Earth Day, environmental reporters ask the following question: What should people do for Earth Day and the environment?  
Now more than ever the answer is:  Start spending time outdoors with our children.
A recent 15-year analysis by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized a disturbing generational trend.  It showed future participatory declines of 16 percent among anglers, 11 percent among hunters, and 23 percent among those who watch wildlife.  A new study published in a National Academy of Sciences publication found that even though national parks remain popular, adjusting for population increases, park attendance is 70 million short of the 1987 peak.
Electronic media, TV, and video games are replacing “playtime outdoors” for our children, according to a 2005 Kaiser Family Foundation report. On average, the study found that U.S. children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend 45 hours a week exposed to electronic media, an amount of time most parents spend on their full-time jobs.  The problem, coined as “nature deficit disorder” by author Richard Louv, is so serious that the National Wildlife Federation recently made outdoor nature education its top priority alongside global climate change.
And why is this important for the environment and our communities? 
Because we are at risk of losing a generation. These children could end up disconnected to nature while being connected more and more to their sofas.  How will we ever be able to explain the need for clean water and air or the protection and preservation of natural areas, forests and wildlife when the closest a child gets to a river or forest is peering out a car window?
For our communities, the benefits of experiencing the outdoors with our children are immeasurable. Study after study proves the importance of outdoor nature education   A recent California Department of Education study showed that sixth graders improved their science scores by 27 percent after taking week-long outdoor education classes.  Outdoor play is linked to lower rates of obesity and depression. A University of Illinois study even found that spending time in “green areas” reduced symptoms of attention deficit disorder.
In the Birmingham area, it has been very encouraging to see our community coalesce around the creation of Red Mountain Park and the expansion of Ruffner Mountain.  Community gardens and ecoscapes are blooming like wildflowers around our neighborhoods, thanks to groups like the Southern Environmental Center and Jones Valley Urban Farm.  And local nature preserves and greenways have been developed in about a half dozen local communities, from Hoover to Brookside.  These are all hopeful signs that at least Birmingham “gets it” and is ready to truly tackle nature deficit disorder.
As the famous environmental writer Rachel Carson put it in her first book, The Sense of Wonder, “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder…. he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”
Back to my daughter, the princess.  She will be celebrating Earth Day this weekend with a “bug hunt” in one of our neighborhood parks.  Her friends, or should I say royal court, will be joining us.  And yes, she will be bringing her Barbie fishing pole.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

BEN - April 9, 2008 #301

1) EPA Announces Tougher Ozone Rules 

2) Forever Wild Buys 1500 Acres Along Paint Rock River

3) Alabama's 3rd Birding Trail Located in the Black Belt

4) City of Troy Signs U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Change Agreement

5) BEN Notes - Ruffner Mountain Seeking Education Director, Shoals Earth Month, AEC's Green Tie Affair, Dauphin Island Discovery Day, 1st Annual Village Creek Run & Workshop, Alabama's First Lady to Attend Auntie Litter Parade, E-cycling Day at Whole Foods, Dauphin Island's Cocktail with the Critters, Camp McDowell's Raptor Run


Thicket Magazine's Green Issue is on newsstands this month!  Check out this new exciting magazine at


1. EPA Announces Tougher Ozone Rules - According to a news story written by Birmingham News environment reporter Katherine Bouma, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced last month tougher health requirements to clean up the nation's air.

Under the new rules, Birmingham and as many as four Alabama metro areas are likely to be in violation of ozone air pollution rules.  The counties that are expected to not meet the new rules are: Baldwin, Jefferson, Madison, Mobile, Morgan and Shelby. Presently, all of Alabama is meeting the current standard.  

Why the new, tougher ozone air pollution standard? According to the News, health experts say smog under the current ozone regulation - even in areas where the limit is being met - causes hundreds of premature deaths among the elderly and health problems for thousands of young children and people with asthma and other respiratory illnesses. The new rule will help address this national environmental/health problem.

2. Forever Wild Buys 1500 Acres Along Paint Rock River - The state of Alabama's Forever Wild program has purchased 1500 acres and roughly 3 1/2 miles of frontage along the Hurricane Creek and Paint Rock River in Jackson County, Alabama. Nature Conservancy officials call the Paint Rock River one of the world's "last great places" and have been working hard since 2001 to spare it from development.

The new Forever Wild Reserve was bought by the state from the Nature Conservancy for more than $1.5 million.  Along with Forever Wild funds, the state was able to use an additional $1.2 million from the U.S. Forest Service's Forest Legacy Program.  The new preserve will be named Henshaw Cove and will be part of the 30,000 acre Skyline Wildlife Management Area.  

For more information about Forever Wild and Alabama's public lands, visit

3. Alabama's 3rd Birding Trail Located in the Black Belt - Alabama now has its third Birding Trail - the Black Belt Nature and Heritage Trail.

The new trail covers a large "swath" of the state, from the Mississippi state line in the west to the Georgia line in the east.  The trail's three loops cover 13 counties and 55 sites. Along with a number of historic sites, some of the trail's nature sites include: the Perry Lakes Birding Tower, the Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge, the Oakmulgee division of the Talladega National Forest and the Marion Fish Hatchery.

Alabama first birding trail was the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail. It was followed by the North Alabama Birding Trail.  Visit to check out Alabama's newest Birding Trail.

4. City of Troy Signs U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Change Agreement - Recently, the city of Troy and its Mayor Jimmy Lunsford have signed on to the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.  Under the agreement cities commit to:

* Strive to meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol targets in their own communities, through actions ranging from anti-sprawl land-use policies to urban forest restoration projects to public information campaigns;

* Urge their state governments and the federal government to enact policies and programs to meet and beat the greenhouse gas reduction target suggested for the United States in the Kyoto Protocol - 7% reduction from 1990 levels by 2012; and Urge Congress to pass bipartisan greenhouse gas reduction legislation.

Other Alabama cities who have signed the agreement include: Auburn, Bessemer, Huntsville, Opelika and Tuscaloosa.

5. BEN Notes - Ruffner Mountain Seeking Education Director, Shoals Earth Month, AEC's Green Tie Affair, Dauphin Island Discovery Day, 1st Annual Village Creek Run & Workshop, Alabama's First Lady to Attend Auntie Litter Parade, E-cycling Day at Whole Foods, Dauphin Island's Cocktail with the Critters, Camp McDowell's Raptor Run

Ruffner Mountain Seeking Education Director -Ruffner Mountain Nature Center in Birmingham is seeking an Education Director.  For a complete job description email

Shoals Celebrates Earth Month - Talk about a busy month!  Check out all the activities and Earth Day events in Shoals at  (They will be holing Earth Day on April 19th).  Contact Charles Rose at 256-381-2826 if you have any questions.

AEC's Green Tie Affair - Mark your calendars - The Alabama Environmental Council will be holding their 12th Annual Green Tie Affair on April 17th at the Flower Stems Loft on 213 Richard Arrington Blvd. South.  For more info, call 205-322-3126.

Dauphin Island Discovery Day - Dauphin Island Sea Lab will be holding a Discovery Day, Open House on April 19th.  For additional info call 251-861-7509.

1st Annual Village Creek Run & Workshop - On April 19th from 10:00 to 1:00 at the McAlpine Community Center in Birmingham, members of the 2007-2008 Project Corporate Leadership Class and Environmental Leadership Program will host a  workshop to discuss strategies for implementing the Olmstead Vision for the Village Creek Area in the Ensley and Pratt Communities. For info about this event call - L'Tryce Slade at 866-925-5742.

Alabama's First Lady to Attend Auntie Litter Parade - Alabama's First Lady, Patsy Riley will be leading Auntie Litter's 17th Annual Earth Day Parade and celebration in downtown Birmingham.  The parade, which on April 22nd begins at noon.  For more info call 205-879-3009 or visit

E-cycling Day at Whole Foods - Whole Foods Market in Birmingham will be holding an Electronics Recyclables Day on April 19th, 8am-4pm.  Bring old computers/electronics and cell phones.

Dauphin Island's Cocktail with the Critters - The Dauphin Island Sea Lab Foundation will be hosting Cocktails and Critters with TV Host and Sports fishing photographer Bill Boyce on April 24th at the Five Rivers in Spanish Fort.  For additional info, call 251-861-7509.

Camp McDowell's Raptor Run - Camp McDowell will be holding a "Raptor Run" fundraiser on May 3rd at Camp McDowell.  For details, visit