Focus on Diversity: Changing the Face of American Birding

Freshwater Tidal Marsh at Tinicum (John Heinz NWR), Philadelphia
Freshwater Tidal Marsh at Tinicum (John Heinz NWR), Philadelphia

This past Saturday, October 22, 2011, I spent the day learning and discussing the ways in which national parks, refuges, environmental centers and organizations can attract “minority” visitors and members.

I attended the “Focus On Diversity: Changing the Face of American Birding Conference” at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum.

There are several reasons why diversity in environmental organizations is of such great concern. The United States is 34% “minority”. This includes Native Americans, South American Indians, Asians, African-Americans, Latinos, Islanders and others.

In raw numbers that is collectively over 100 million people.

With the demographics of the American population changing, environmental organizations are being hit with the reality that their core group is dwindling in number. The core group consists of white suburban environmentally-concerned people.

The people who the environmental groups courted and catered to will no longer be the majority in the United States.

Mallards in the marsh. Tinicum (John Heinz NWR)
Mallards in the marsh. Tinicum (John Heinz NWR)

The big environmental organizations may not realize it but their message is, that if minorities are not brought into the fold of the big environmental groups, that environmental activism and public support will dwindle.

This is ridiculous.

Here is why. In this month’s issue of Audubon magazine, the article Facing the Future”, discusses this situation.

From the article, “Numerous national and regional polls show that people of color in the United States care more about environmental degradation than do their white counterparts. Minorities are also more willing to pay higher taxes to fund programs to preserve wildlife habitat, lakes and rivers, and other natural areas. The numbers are dramatic: A 2009 national poll (conducted by two firms, one Republican and one Democratic) revealed that 63 percent of African-Americans felt toxics and pesticides in our food and drinking water were “extremely” or “very serious” problem, while 61 percent felt the same way about global warming. For Latinos, the numbers were 61 and 55 percent. For whites, they were 38 and 39 percent.” (Audubon September-October 2011, p.66)

Do you see a problem? I don’t.

Freshwater Tidal Marsh at Tinicum (John Heinz NWR), Philadelphia
Freshwater Tidal Marsh at Tinicum (John Heinz NWR), Philadelphia

The numbers are staring them in the face. I doubt if all is lost because the Sierra Club ceases to be big and powerful. Another group will step up to the plate.

Maybe things will be even better with some many minority, environmentally aware voters in the future.

After reading these numbers, you begin to wonder why these groups weren’t courted all along? Okay, we know why, racism calls the shots yet again.

I know there are those who are very well-intentioned. But, environmental organizations are filled with humans.

I think the larger organizations, Audubon, National Wildlife Federation can make the change at the national and larger regional office levels. But I doubt small environmental and organizational chapters can make the change.

What does this mean for us on the local level?

The idea of waiting and knocking at the door of environmental organizations bothers me.

I say start diversity-friendly local environmental, birding and nature study groups. Accept and make EVERYONE feel welcome. Get minority kids interested in birding and citizen science projects. Have special events aimed at minority-groups.

This is what Fledging Birders Institute and other groups have done. I thing it is important to join and support these groups.

Let’s walk a new path, leaving the nonsense behind.

Path along the marshes Tinicum (John Heinz NWR)
Path along the marshes Tinicum (John Heinz NWR)

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