The currant university education is not preparing students for a career in natural resources. Sure, ecology is important and chemistry too. Throw some biology in there and you have an education, but one critical aspect is not represented in the degree plan. The way in which the land managers of this generation start on their dedicated path is more than likely in a classroom. Though this seems the best way to learn; it is the reason for learning, the want, the drive that is missing. The thing that the classroom leaves behind is a fundamental passion. A personal appreciation for the natural world that has nothing to do with an essay, a class project or a degree. The connection to nature is found outside of the classroom. Hopefully, everyone that wants to work to conserve the natural world has found that passion, right? That is what led them to sit in that desk. My experiences may suggest otherwise. In order to preserve the environment, we must change the way we instill a passion in students and return to the fundamentals that started the preservation of nature for what it is.

This semester in a natural resources and society 235, the professor asked how many of the 80 or so students had ever been to a national park or forest. In this class comprised of only College of Natural Resources students, maybe 15 people raised their hands. Thank goodness I had a mask on because my mouth was wide open in astonishment. To the disappointment of the professor, he then asked for a raise of hands. “Who here goes camping?” Five or six hands go up. “Does anybody hunt?” Fewer hands this time. He continued naming off outdoor activities and a combination of the same 15 hands would raise each time. The beans had been spilled; the fact laid bare. Underneath the Birkenstocks, fleeces and hipster glasses, these self-proclaimed outdoor enthusiasts had no deeply founded passion for the natural world at all. These are the future land managers, foresters, environmental activists and lawyers. In a way, the voice of the landscape in influential decisions and policy choices. Where is the relationship with nature? Shouldn’t there be one?

In other colleges that I looked at in high school, no matter the degree, the first 2 weeks of college was spent on a backpacking trip. In the mountains, surrounded with the grandeur of such a creation, one cannot help but be inspired to preserve it no matter the carrier path. Programs like this are few and far between which is part of the issue as I see it. The current natural resources education includes minimal hands-on experience. The first year especially should be instilling a passion for the natural world. This passion for what we study should be the first priority provided by university courses. If the mix of students who are passionate for the outdoors is roughly 15/80 in a class, why should we expect the work force demographics to be any different. This lack of personal enthusiasm will stunt the progress being made in preservation efforts around the world. Grafting education and enthusiasm together will change the way students look at their classes, at nature at their future and what they can achieve.

In terms of what that fundamental enthusiasm looks like, one need only look to names like Frank Church, Bob Marshall and John Muir. These were the designers and the creators of the public lands west. Most of them did not even have degrees in natural resources. What they had was a deep-rooted passion for the outdoors. This I see of greater importance. They were politicians, explores, fishermen, loggers and mountaineers. They did not study ecology at a university, they lived it; watching the delicate balance of the landscape in action. They did not go past Yosemite, do a photo shoot, and move on. They saw the beauty of this landscape and translated that passion into their life’s work; giving everything they had to preserve it. But the inspiration came first from the land, and translated into action, not the other way around.

These are the values that should be sought after. The population was rallied by the passion these leaders possessed and shared their intrinsic value placed on nature. The university system can produce charismatic leaders such as this who fueled by this holistic approach of seeing nature as an invaluable resource that is the primary reason for what they do. Instead of viewing the environment in an exploitative sense, recognizing its objective worth and working to preserve it. This starts on an individual level. Get outside. Discover why so many others have devoted their lives to preserving nature.

If we want future generations to enjoy the same great landscapes that exist today, focus should be to spark appreciation and wonder in their hearts. In this way, the best choices in regard to nature will come naturally. This I believe to be the right first step to conservation and preserving the beauty this world has to offer.