Community Agriculture Alliance: Importance of environmental issues

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— Migrate, adapt and hibernate. These are the rules of the day for our area’s wildlife.

Perhaps you’ve noticed fresh elk droppings in your neighborhood park, or birds desperately stripping trees and shrubs of their last berries and a bit of nectar. As a community, we value observing wildlife in our backyards. Community reports such as Vision 2030 document the importance we place on a clean environment, a healthy river system and vast open spaces. Why? How did we get to be such keen observers of nature?

Can you remember your first observation in nature? Many people who study natural history attribute their career choice to an experience they had as a child. Positive experiences in the natural world at a young age create the foundation for a lifelong appreciation of it. Appreciation and enthusiasm for the natural world are the logical first steps to environmental stewardship.

A very local example of why we need well-educated stewards of our environment relates to public lands. In Routt County alone, about 50 percent of our land is public. Whether the youths of today become public land users or they become future land managers, an understanding of the resources our public lands safeguard is fundamental. Our youths will face more complex environmental issues than we do today. They will be responsible for making difficult decisions about the health of the environment, success of our communities and vitality of our economy. Environmental education is one tool that can help them face those opportunities and challenges. Successful environmental education programs integrate scientific concepts and societal needs, and the end result is that students become environmentally literate.

The Environmental Literacy Council defines environmental literacy as “requiring a fundamental understanding of the systems of the natural world, the relationships and interactions between the living and the nonliving environment, and the ability to deal sensibly with problems that involve scientific evidence, uncertainty, and economic, aesthetic, and ethical considerations.” In short, the environmentally literate person understands the implications of his/her actions and has the skills to think critically and make responsible choices.

Thanks to a recent grant from the Education Fund Board, Yampatika is working to develop an environmental literacy plan for students at the K-5 level. The plan includes an evaluative mechanism to test the correlation between environmental education and academic achievement. According to a 1998 study of 40 schools, 92 percent of comparisons indicated that students who were taught using an environmental framework “academically outperform their peers in traditional programs.” Evidence from the same study indicates that students learn more effectively within an environment-based context than within a traditional educational framework.

Vision 2030 told us that more than 90 percent of respondents valued a clean environment more than any other attribute named. The decisions we make today, and the decisions our youths will make tomorrow, will determine whether we can keep that attribute intact. To learn more about Yampatika’s efforts locally or our work at the state level with The Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education, call us at 970-871-9151.

Sonja Macys is executive director of Yampatika. Her educational background includes a master’s degree in Parks and Protected Area Management from Colorado State University.

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