Learning to love the Outdoors

By Luke Matthews

With a rapid and continual increase in urbanization and reliance on technology, fewer people enjoy outdoor recreation across the nation, particularly in the younger generations. This social and behavioral shift has been linked to mental health issues, as people become more and more separated from outdoor and wildlife-related experiences. Additionally, there is some concern, particularly as it relates to the younger generations, regarding the future levels of financial and political support for National Parks, outdoor recreation facilities, wildlife management, and hunting.

Photo Credit: John Geiger

Noticing a significant social shift in the attitudes and priorities of wildlife students at the University of California – Davis (UC Davis), Dr. John Eadie and Dr. Bob McLandress started a program to give their wildlife students a better understanding of the values of hunting, wildlife management, and general outdoor recreation. This program was developed in partnership with Jake Messerli with the California Waterfowl Association (CWA) and the Bonderson’s Bird Haven Ranch in Butte County. Each year, fifteen college or graduate level students are selected to go through this program, which involves hunter education courses, firearms safety training, and a one on one waterfowl hunt with a wildlife professional. This year I was asked to participate in the program as a guide and coach for one of the students.

Now in its 12th year, the UC Davis CWA College Hunt Camp has been a huge success and is being used as a model for other universities across North America. Programs like this, as well as programs that focus more generally on exposing people to nature, gardening, wildlife viewing, and outdoor recreation are extremely important. These programs can result in benefits to both the health and happiness of the individual; while also increasing the future sustainability of wildlife and wildlands.

If you ever have the opportunity to participate in or support a program like this you will not be disappointed.


Luke Matthews is the Wildlife Programs Manager for the California Rice Commission