Wild America – A Continuous Process of Change
Living off the land is such a big part of American culture, the tales of the Wild West. And heroes such as David Bowie and Lewis & Clark are central pieces of the American folklore along the manifest destiny and expansion Westward.
In the heartland states one can’t imagine these activities ever going away, recreational fishing for example is a $115 billion industry and Americans purchase more guns than almost any other country in the world, with a large chunk of them going to hunters. Not only that but there are still significant pockets of the country where people get much of their food from from fishing and hunting.
The big question is whether the continual shift of the population to the urban areas and net decline in rural population will decrease the popularity of outdoor activities. There are some indicators that hunting is not very popular with younger Americans. We know this because the number of hunting permits has been consistently declining every year. And this is especially true in the northeastern states like Massachusetts.
On the other hand, some large retailers such as REI are hugely popular and they cater exclusively to people who are interested in outdoor activities. They continually launch a large variety of high-end gear for activities like camping, rock climbing, and mountain biking.
It seems that many of these outdoor activities are simply evolving from their origins of people truly living off the land to more and more of a recreational activity where people are getting out of their urban environment and going into these extreme rural isolated areas and trying to survive for days weeks etc.
So there has certainly been a decline in the original true living off the land in the post-war era, but a parallel increase in extreme sports and extreme activities which are enabled by some newer technologies but also have developed a massive following due to people cooped up in urban areas year round wanting to push themselves when they finally get to nature.
One troubling aspect though in all of this is the divide between rich and poor. Originally one would imagine a poor person camping out in the woods for days and weeks as a cheap form of entertainment and a great way to get some free food and they could store all their camping, hiking gear in their spacious rural homes.
However, nowadays the urban poor have almost no ability to access this form of activity as the gear alone would be beyond their yearly income and they certainly have very limited space to store these items year round. On the other hand, the rich have no shortage of funds to buy more and more new gadgets and accessories and can certainly afford to find space to store their toys year round.
However, a bright spot in all of this can be that the emptying out of the rural countryside has potentially given a reprieve to the environment many more areas can become truly wild with the potential giving room for species like the wolf or the bear to make a comeback and bring the ecosystem back into balance, but for thrill seekers and those willing to live off the land a more true experience of how wilderness is supposed to be.