Connecting Kids’ Natural Creativity to Nature

Tom Tidwell, Chief
4th World Children’s Festival, Opening Ceremony
National Mall, Washington, DC
— June 17, 2011

Good morning!

I am honored to be here with you today, as part of the opening ceremony for the 4th World Children’s Festival.  As I look out at you today, I see many different faces, both young and old, from all over the world.  This weekend, through this festival, we’re all connected by one thing: children are the future of conservation, and this event is a celebration of their potential.

The world has a marvelous wealth of natural resources that billions of people depend on for their health and well-being.  Here in the United States, it is our privilege at the U.S. Forest Service to manage some of those resources on our system of national forests and grasslands.  We also help forest landowners and other land managers across the United States—and, indeed, around the world—to manage their forests sustainably.  Our job is to help protect and restore healthy, resilient forests for the benefit of future generations all around the world.

Forests are cool, and I hope you get a chance to visit one soon, whether it’s a national forest or one of our local parks.  In a forest, you can hike a trail … catch a fish … take pictures of plants and animals and gorgeous scenery … climb rocks … or just sit and relax.  Forests provide us with lots of clean water … and homes for fish and wildlife.  Forests help clean our air.  Forests are a great place for people to get outdoors and enjoy everything nature has to offer.

We have all these forest resources thanks to the people who came before us—the women and men who had the foresight to manage our forests wisely and well, for our benefit today.  Many of our ancestors grew up on the land, living from forests and grasslands and sustaining them so that others could live from them, too.

Today, too, we understand the critical link between nature and healthy kids and communities.  Kids today are maybe not getting outside enough … and we hope to change that!  That is one reason why events like this are so important, where kids can combine their artistic talent with their interest in sports and other outdoor activities.  Each year, the Forest Service works with millions of children throughout the United States.  Our goal is to help them understand and love the natural world.  At our own Forest Service workshops, kids can combine their natural creativity with learning about trees.

People have combined art with nature from the earliest times, as you can see from rock etchings on the national forests in the West, left there by the ancestors of the American Indians.  Art has always been a way for people to connect to the Great Outdoors … to express their love and understanding for the natural world.  Art is almost a primal need, one that especially appeals to children.  We use art to connect kids to conservation—to help them build a commitment to protect our natural heritage.

Please enjoy your time here today.  I hope you have some fun, learn something new, and meet some new friends.  And, while doing all this, I hope you’ll come to appreciate the outdoors just a little more.