Engaging All Americans in Conservation

The Fourth Annual Americas Latino Eco Festival

Something is amiss in the conservation movement. The demographics of the United States are changing rapidly, but the demographics of outdoor recreation and public lands visitation have not exactly followed suit.

A survey of national park visitors in 2008-2009 commissioned by the National Park Service found that just over 20% of park visitors were minorities, yet minorities make up nearly 40% of the U.S. population. The statistics on diversity in environmental and conservation organizations is equally troubling: according to a 2014 report, minorities made up only 16% of the boards or staff of these organizations.

This is a significant issue, especially because U.S. Census data predicts that minority groups will make up the majority of our population within the next 25 years. To ensure that all Americans are part of the conservation movement, the National Wildlife Federation is committed to developing a diverse and highly effective conservation army of 75 million Americans that will help wildlife, communities, and people thrive.

584507_cbb101e6748240e39ef5599735c472e3-mv2As part of these efforts, the National Wildlife Federation is helping to sponsor the upcoming 4th annual Americas Latino Eco Festival (ALEF), being held in Denver, Colorado from October 13th-15th. Presented by Americas for Conservation + the Arts, this Latino-hosted multicultural gathering intends to elevate “in particular the voices of communities of color, and of women in conservation and cultural leadership.”

Polling by Earthjustice and GreenLatinos reveals that Latino voters care deeply about conservation and the environment, with nearly 80% of Latinos believing “it is extremely or very important to protect our nation’s wildlife, public lands, and endangered species.” Surveys show that minority groups in general tend to express greater concern than Caucasians do about environmental threats like climate change and air pollution.

The data disproves the common assumption that minority groups aren’t inclined towards outdoor recreation and conservation. Yet, as revealed by the lack of diversity and diverse representation in outdoor recreation and conservation groups, a disconnect remains, an obstacle to uniting forces and creating a more diverse conservation movement.

This disconnect, between the broad diversity of support for conservation, wildlife, and our outdoor treasures, and the lack of diversity when we look at who is visiting, connecting with, and working for these places, has led to a growing effort in the conservation world to close this gap. The reasons for the lack of diversity among park visitors and other outdoor recreationists are multifold, and the National Park Service, along with other conservation organizations have made improving diversity amongst visitors and staff a top priority, with extensive outreach efforts to communities of color, diversity workshops for employees, and revised hiring practices.

People enjoying Grand Canyon National Park. Photo by Erin Whittaker/ NPS
People enjoying Grand Canyon National Park. Photo by Erin Whittaker/ NPS

Kent Salazar, the Western Vice-Chair of the National Wildlife Federation’s Board of Directors, will be part of a panel during this month’s festival titled “An Inclusive Vision for the Next 100 Years of Public Lands and Its People”, and he states that the event intends “to foster collaboration between cultures in addressing environmental issues that face us all as inhabitants of this planet.” Salazar is also an advisory board member of Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO), and believes that one of the problems facing the mainstream conservation movement as it tries to reach out to communities of color “is the failure to understand the various cultures.”

Salazar says that instead of only trying to ask conservationists of color to join mainstream conservation groups, we must recognize the incredible work that conservationists of color are already doing, and ask how we can help their efforts. “We realize that we cannot act alone in this monumental task,” he said.

584507_59b2c6979b604f068beebbbf739efc0f-mv2The festival will be a multiday celebration that recognizes the contributions of Latino leaders to conservation and environmental justice, and that uses art and culture to communicate environmental awareness and shared values. This year’s festival is titled People & Forests First: Shades of Hope, and will highlight the relationships between people, forests, public lands, and climate change. The organizers of the festival state that presenters and attendees will “discuss novel solutions to advancing a healthy environment, locally and globally, through advocacy, education, and engagement of culturally diverse populations.”

Protecting and restoring wildlife in the United States will take a movement inclusive of all Americans, and the National Wildlife Federation is working hard to ensure the next generation of conservationists represent our entire nation. Brian Kurzel, the Executive Director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Rocky Mountain Regional Center, states “building authentic relationships with communities and leaders that represent all people is not a choice, it is a necessity if the special places and species that define the West are to be protected for future Americans.”

Learn More

To learn more about the Americas Latino Eco Festival, visit the festival website, and follow the National Wildlife Federation’s Rocky Mountain Regional Center on Facebook and Twitter as we participate in the festival’s incredible events and offerings!