Tennessee is one of the most beautiful and unique states in the country. Ever since the earliest settlers came through the Cumberland Gap, our natural resources and wildlife have sustained us as a people. We rely on the fertile soil to grow our crops, and our forests provide the building materials for our homes and hiking trails. The rivers provide drinking water for an ever-growing population, fish to catch and places to canoe. Equally important to millions of people in Tennessee, outdoor recreation is worth billions of dollars to our state and local economy. Over 1.2 million Tennesseans annually purchase some form of hunting or fishing license.
However, a rift has slowly developed between the large numbers of people who love the land and wildlife and the committed voices reporting on nature in the media.
Most news about nature comes through organizations and specialized publications where the people reading the stories have signed up to receive that particular type of news. These stories don’t reach the rest of the public who haven’t yet come into contact with their natural side. The general public does not want to read lengthy scientific articles full of technical jargon about biodiversity, sustainability or ecosystem dynamics. They don’t want to hear about how to protect another animal or plant they’ve never heard of. They want to hear how conservation efforts—or lack thereof—are directly impacting them.
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Today, for a story to make the news, it must have relevance and an appeal that gets the public to respond. Conservation stories are often overlooked because, surprisingly, they don’t seem to provoke enough of that emotional response. Conservation stories have to fight for news space among the more ‘relevant’ sports and local events. Or they are passed over for scarier stories about climate change.
It’s not enough for researchers and conservationists to cry out about the impending destruction of our natural world. When talking about conservation, it should be about sharing traditions and a lifestyle that connects people across time and space. I imagine how much more the conservation movement could achieve if our stories were more widely shared in mainstream media.
The problem is compounded by the fact that outdoor writers are rapidly disappearing. Editorial offices have been shrinking for years. As a result, we are seeing some of the conservation and outdoor content moving to other forms of digital media such as podcasts and social media. However, dedicated outdoor writers are uniquely qualified to bring conservation stories to life because, to them, it’s not just a story — it’s a way of life they can pass on to future generations. Outdoor writers offer a unique voice, well suited to highlighting the importance of conservation efforts in a way that the rest of the public will understand and hopefully get behind.
When we lose outdoor writers, we lose the people inside who champion the importance of stories about the environment. We need people who understand nature and can write a story about it with passion and purpose, people who are actively looking for new ways to engage the public with outdoor issues. The outdoor writers we have in Tennessee work tirelessly. They continue to push for nature reporting, although often they don’t have the funding or resources to make it happen. We appreciate the work that Tennessee’s dedicated outdoor writers are doing, and the Tennessee Wildlife Federation wholeheartedly believes that more is needed.
We need outdoor writers who not only sound the alarm when our natural resources are under threat, but also express joy at the wonders of the environment.
Nature is amazing and we need to hear more stories about how it has positively impacted the people who rely on it. In this way we will inspire others to join the cause and changes will take place. This is how the movement to protect and preserve the great outdoors will progress.
If only nature could speak. But since it can’t, it’s up to us to give it a voice. We need more storytelling from outdoor writers, outdoor men and women doing our best to ensure our children and grandchildren can enjoy the great outdoors even more than we did as children. We are the ones who know these forests and rivers and meadows on a personal level. As long as nature cannot speak, we are the ones who must stand up for and stand up for her.
Kendall McCarter is the Chief Development Officer of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation.