Forest Service Aims To Close Nature-Deficit Gap by Getting Kids out into the Woods

May 22, 2007 — By Matthew Daly, Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Students from New York to Alaska will be exploring forests and wetlands this year as part of an effort by the U.S. Forest Service to get kids out of the classroom and into the woods.

The $1.5 million "Kids in the Woods" program is aimed at a growing problem among American school children: a lack of direct experience with nature that experts say can contribute to childhood obesity, diabetes and even attention deficit disorder.

The program also is intended to nurture future environmental scientists and other Forest Service workers -- an acute need for an agency with a graying work force, said Deputy Forest Service Chief Ann Bartuska.

"It's an opportunity to connect kids to our national forests and to other outdoor settings," she said.

The grant program, to be announced at a news conference Tuesday, includes 24 projects in 15 states. More than 23,000 children are expected to participate in the program, which is supported by a host of private groups, as well as state, federal and local agencies.

The Forest Service is providing $500,000 in grants, with another $1 million provided by partners including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New York Botanical Garden and the Gates Foundation.

In one project, students from the Harlem Link Charter School in New York City will explore forests and wetlands in the New York region, including the botanical garden and the Meadowlands Environmental Center in New Jersey.

In the Pacific Northwest, scholarship assistance will help 800 children attend educational programs at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington state. The program also will provide overnight trips for students in the Seattle area to learn more about conservation and environmental stewardship.