What if our smart devices were part of a smart solution for fish and wildlife?
Like most parents, I have kids’ games on my smartphone. They come in handy when our three- and four-year-old daughters get restless in the backseat on road trips. (Believe me, after an hour on I-95, I would give them fillet knives and Irish whiskey if I thought it would quiet them down.)
This past summer, we did our longest road trip yet—a 7-hour nerve-shredder, punctuated by many bathroom stops, from our home in Washington, D.C., to my in-laws’ cottage on Squantz Pond in Connecticut. As we sat in traffic at 10 p.m. on the Tappan Zee Bridge, I found myself praying to Steve Jobs that my iPhone’s battery would hold out for another hour. It did, and my father-in-law and I did break out the whiskey after we got the kids to bed. Then my wife and I hid our phones in our duffle bags and swore that our daughters would spend the rest of the weekend outside, even if it meant we had to drag them.
We didn’t have to. That summer weekend, my daughters discovered the thrill of jumping in the lake, throwing sticks into the water, making sand-soup in a bucket, listening to the rain from under the boat house awning, and—to my great delight—fishing. We caught perch, walleye, and sunfish, which my daughters insisted on petting before we let them go.
Not once did they request screen-time with our gadgets.
This is the magic of the outdoors. It clears away the stressors that clutter our lives and facilitates connection rather than diversion. Anyone who has spent even one day afield knows this intuitively, but now there is a growing mountain of scientific evidence that, well, the mountains—and streams, prairies, forests, and oceans—are just what our text-stressed brains need. Florence William’s story in the January 2016 issue of Natural Geographic summarized this emerging science on the importance of nature beautifully.
So how do we make sure our kids have quality places to get outside? That’s our mission here at the TRCP—guaranteeing all Americans quality places to hunt and fish. And we spend a lot of time identifying the challenges to our mission, like lack of funding for game and non-game species, lack of access, fragmentation of habitat from development, and, yes, the increasing suck of screen-time.
The average child in America spends about 50 hours a week in front of a screen of some kind. And this explosion of smart devices has occurred at the same time that funding for conservation of fish and wildlife resources has imploded. In the last several decades, the percentage of the federal budget devoted to conservation has been cut in half.
What if our beloved smartphones were part of the solution? In 2015, about 2.5 billion smart devices—phones, tablets, and PCs—were sold worldwide. Even if the U.S. market is only 10 percent of that, a one-dollar tax on all smart device sales in the U.S. could generate $250 million annually for conservation and access—the very things we need to feel the joy my girls discovered on the lake. What mom or dad wouldn’t pay an extra dollar on a $199 iPhone if it meant better parks and abundant wildlife?
To my knowledge, no one is pushing for this idea yet, but it’s the kind of creative solution that we should be working on. This week, a panel of leaders from the energy, business, and conservation sectors revealed one possible strategy. And we suspect there are other good ideas out there. If you have one, let us know. Sportsmen need these places to play, and so do our kids.
It’s a lot safer than sharp knives and whiskey.