President's View: Building a Diverse Conservation Army

Working to empower all Americans who want to help wildlife

  • Collin O’Mara, President & Chief Executive Officer
  • Conservation
  • May 25, 2016

Working with volunteers at Earth Conservation Corps, NWF's Washington D.C., affiliate, NWF President Collin O'Mara (left) helps create native turtle habitat.

THE NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION was founded on the belief that saving wildlife requires every American who values natural resources to join together—from hunters, anglers and birders to gardeners, farmers and forest stewards. Yet 80 years later, we are still working to fulfill this vision of building a conservation army that represents the full diversity of our nation. We must redouble our efforts and engage all Americans, inclusive of gender, race, age, orientation, ability, religion and political ideology.

This is easy to say but hard to do. Many Americans do not see the relevance of—or feel welcome in—the conservation community. Such estrangement can be exacerbated by our own unconscious biases, which prevent deeper engagement with people we perceive as different. By working to recognize and overcome these biases, we will become more inclusive.

Natural resource conservation is essential to improving public health, student achievement and local economies—aspirations shared by people from all races, cultures and backgrounds. Yet many Americans do not see the conservation community as the best place to advance these goals. To bridge the divide, we must embrace, understand and include diverse perspectives. As a truly grassroots organization, our Federation understands this and is committed to bringing together diverse groups.

Hard Work Worth Doing

We have a long way to go. A recent analysis of nearly 300 environmental organizations by The Raben Group found that people of color—who make up 36 percent of the nation’s population—constitute only 12 percent of staff and less than 10 percent of boards. At the Federation, the breakdown is 15 percent and 22 percent, respectively. That said, we are making strides. Our education programs reach more than 3 million students annually, most of whom attend the nation’s largest city school districts. We collaborate with a wide array of partners, from sovereign tribes to local environmental-justice organizations, and have learned lessons from our more culturally diverse affiliates, including the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i and the Sociedad Ornitológica Puertorriqueña Inc. We’ve also worked with the Seattle-based Quixote Foundation and others to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion through trainings for staff, board members and affiliates. And we strive to embed diversity and inclusion throughout our entire organizational culture.

I am confident we will succeed in our efforts to restore natural resources—and that we will do so because we have built a conservation army that includes and empowers the full diversity of Americans who value our nation’s wildlife and wild places. I hope you’ll join us in this effort! 

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More from National Wildlife magazine and NWF:

NWF Guardians of Abundance
Eco-School Teach Eco-Living
Educating Tomorrow's Naturalists
Our Work: Protecting Wildlife, Inspiring Future Generations

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