There is a subset of people in the environmental conservation movement who hate their fellow man - they like nature but don't think anyone outside of their companies should enjoy it, they should just pay companies to raise money for advocacy.

Fortunately, most recognize that hunters, hikers and fishers care in a much different way than people raising money.  They're true friends of the environment because they want their kids to enjoy it also so they tend to become supporters of environmental and conservation groups whereas casual visitors do not.

But not all outdoors enthusiasts support big money environmental groups, which has them concerned.  And another problem, what Oliver Pergams, visiting research assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Patricia Zaradic, director of the Red Rock Institute in Pennsylvania, made headlines with in early 2008 called "videophilia",  is a study showing that a steady decline in nature recreation since the late 1980s has correlated to a rise in playing video games, surfing the Internet and watching movies. 

Pergams and Zaradic, along with Peter Kareiva, chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy, have found that mostly people who engage in pastime activities like hiking and backpacking end up as supporters of mainline corporate conservation groups while neither the more casual sightseers or sportsmen do.

The researchers correlated the amount of time individuals spent hiking or backpacking with a willingness, 11 to 12 years later, to financially support four large conservation organizations that span the spectrum from militant to outreach: Environmental Defense, Sierra Club World Wildlife Fund and the Nature Conservancy.   The average backpacker gave $200 to $300 per year.

Now the environmental corporations know where to focus their marketing.   "For the first time, we've shown a direct correlation between outdoor recreation and investment in conservation, and we know what types of outdoor activity are most likely to lead to conservation investment," Zaradic said. 

Environmental groups, they say, depend on a very narrow base of support from elite, active outdoor enthusiasts - predominantly white, college-educated, higher income, over 35 and yet not Republicans, given the political uses of the funds by the four organizations in the survey.

"There's a much broader market -- more diverse and urban -- that can be tapped by conservation organizations," Zaradic said. "Those groups haven't been spoken to in a way that attracts them." 

Pergams says the finding is a wake-up call to big money environmental corporations that their base is shrinking and giving can be predicted to fall during the next decade with the decline in hiking and backpacking since their popularity peaked from 1998 to 2000. 

Also boding ill for conservation groups is an economic study Pergams published in 2004 that showed that support for charity naturally depends on the broader economy and can be predicted by GDP and personal income. Pergams is concerned that the current economic crisis will add
to the conservationists' woes caused by declines in hiking over the past dozen years. 

"It's a 'perfect storm' of lower personal and corporate income resulting in less conservation support, compounded by effects from the past decline in hiking and backpacking," he said. "It's tough times ahead." 

Pergams says the key to conservation awareness and support is to reach children early with broad-based educational programs that introduce them to vigorous outdoor recreation. 

"If you never get out into nature, you're not going to care about it when you get older," Pergams said. "The kids are where it's at, and we're losing our kids to other influences -- they don't go outside."

Citation: Zaradic PA, Pergams ORW, Kareiva P (2009) The Impact of Nature Experience on Willingness to Support Conservation. PLoS ONE 4(10): e7367. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007367