America's Great Outdoors Diversity Initiative

 

Protecting the environment for future generations is great idea. In fact it’s a notion so simple that you might wonder why it took a White House committee ten months, 52 public listening sessions and a 116-page document to express what any lover of nature knows by heart. Unveiled in February by President Obama, America’s Great Outdoors report offers a comprehensive list of recommendations to preserve wilderness and recreation areas throughout the United States for decades if not centuries to come. It’s a thorough series of  proposals that provide logical solutions that aim to engage more citizens in

outdoor activities. But this plan, devised by the most racially diverse administration in our nation’s history, ironically seems to neglect an excellent opportunity to make the great outdoors more relevant to the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population: people of color.

To be fair, AGO is a bold and ambitious initiative. Launched in April of 2010 it identifies ten eco-boosting opportunities that include the creation of jobs, improved access to wilderness, support of stewardship programs, engaging youth and the establishment of urban parks. Each aspect of the report implies direct community involvement and recommends specific tactics that aim to raise awareness for the importance of environmental protection. But nowhere in the initiative's summary is there an explicit strategy to reach out to segments of the population traditionally underrepresented in outdoor recreation, such as African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and American Indians.The AGO report fails to acknowledge and aim to rectify the disproportionate lack of involvement of non-white people in outdoor recreation and environmental conservation. For decades, studies have shown that the number of minorities who visit national, state and local parks are conspicuously low, relative to their percentage of the population. The same is true for membership in wilderness protection organizations. If this trend continues, as demographics in the U.S. shift to favor a non-white majority, it stands to reason that within two generations a constituency of citizens who support environmental preservation will be too small to participate in the political activities and fundraising that will maintain wilderness areas into the future.

“The AGO concept is a great opportunity to get more people outdoors,” said Bill Gwaltney Assistant Regional Director for Workforce Enhancement at the National Park Service in Denver. “But in order for it to be truly successful we have to make those opportunities real for previously underrepresented communities.” Without changing any of the goals or principles laid out in the AGO report an added recommendation could include the creation of outreach initiatives that specifically target communities of color. “The face of America is changing,” Gwaltney said. “Every policy will have to keep this in mind, not for political reasons but for practical reasons. We still live in a hyphenated America.”

Diversity initiatives to bring more minorities into outdoor recreation will have to utilize non-traditional methods of communication to reach a new audience.  Gwaltney and others suggest that communities must be engaged directly, using language and images they can relate to.

“If we’re not going to ethnic specific media to get this message out,” Gwaltney said, "we’re not in the game.”

Nina Roberts, an associate professor in the depart of recreation at San Francisco State University, said that while casting a broad net to appeal to all Americans the AGO could be missing a very important opportunity. “My question to the powers that be is: are they being intentional with messaging?” Roberts asks. “I think the ultimate communication channels and any outgrowth of programs and/or initiatives must include racial/ethnic minority communities.”

The concern among many who follow diversity issues in the conservation movement is that very little could change. Despite the AGO’s goals, the message of wilderness preservation could continue to circulate exclusively through its well established audience: college-educated, socially-mobile, economically-secure white people over the age of 30. But activists like Juan Martinez, coordinator of the Children & Nature Network in Los Angeles believe that the plan’s focus on young people could provide all the diversity it needs.

“This is the most diverse, most community oriented, the most service oriented generation ever,” Martinez said. “That’s the key, that’s the difference. In the past when there has been a focus on the environment there hasn’t been a focus on the youth.” The new generation of youth who will lead the emerging demographic of a non-white majority may simply make race and ethnicity irrelevant.

“Young people today are self-identifying less and less as a particular ethnicity,” Martinez said. “They’re not checking the box, African-America, Latino, or what have you. They’re more embracing intergenerational communication connecting with their peers across racial lines.”

And as environmental protection rises in the estimation of our youth, this growing, ethnically diverse cohort will undoubtedly lead the way forward. But we cannot take that for granted. Just as we are taking proactive steps to preserve the integrity of our land, air and water, we should be equally diligent to ensure that those who enjoy these natural resources include all segments of the U.S. population. As America’s Great Outdoors initiative gets underway it stands to reason that a conservation movement that reflects the diversity of our nation is a critical aspect of this program that cannot be denied.

Essays in the Just West blog are not written by High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

James Edward Mills is a freelance journalist and independent media producer. His latest work can be found on his blog The Joy Trip Project.

Image from American Great Outdoors Initiative report.


High Country News Classifieds
  • FIELD MANAGER
    Organizational Overview: Columbia Riverkeeper (Riverkeeper) is a successful nonprofit organization that unites communities to fight for clean water and our climate. Riverkeeper advances high-profile campaigns...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Forever Our Rivers Foundation is searching for a driven and creative leader to build a movement, conserving and restoring America's rivers by helping customers find...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Friends of Cedar Mesa is hiring a Deputy Director/COO who will have the overall responsibilities of general program management, staff management, financial & budget management,...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • OFFICE ADMINISTRATOR AND BOOKKEEPER
    Posted: July 19, 2021 Application deadline: August 27 or until position is filled. Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking a fulltime Office Administrator...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Posted: July 15, 2021 Application deadline: August 21, 2021 or until position is filled Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking three full time...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...