Sunday, August 30, 2009

Diversity and the Future of Birding, part 2

From Oak Harbor, Ohio, Kenn writes: A few days ago (August 24) I wrote about the lack of diversity in the birdwatching community. This issue has bugged me for some time, but on the other hand, I’m encouraged to know some individuals who are actively doing something about it.

John C. Robinson has been a friend for several years. We had corresponded before we met, so I knew he was an expert birder before I knew he was African-American. John has been a writer and consultant on a number of topics, but with his status as a black bird expert, it was perhaps only natural that he would become a spokesperson on the issue of diversity in birding and outdoor recreation. At a conservation summit before the Midwest Birding Symposium in 2003, I heard John speak on this subject, and he was very persuasive and compelling. More recently he has published a book that addresses the same issue, Birding for Everyone: Encouraging People of Color to Become Birdwatchers. It’s a thought-provoking work that offers some real solutions.

More than a decade ago I was already an admirer of Dudley Edmondson’s spectacular nature photography, especially of the birds of prey. Indeed, I arranged to use some of his images in my Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America, published nine years ago. Later I found out that this very successful professional nature photographer also was African-American, and had begun to turn his camera toward human subjects as well. He felt that the lack of diversity in the outdoors was partly because people of color didn’t see role models taking part in birdwatching and other outdoor activities, so Dudley has made a point of finding, photographing, and interviewing the exceptions. One result of this work is his fine book, Black and Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places, which is accomplishing great things by highlighting a diverse set of "outdoor role models."

These two guys are both dedicated to this cause of increasing diversity in the field. Here’s just one random piece of evidence: when I was struggling to get my North American bird guide translated into Spanish and then published, John Robinson and Dudley Edmondson were both very encouraging. I hadn’t even met Dudley at that point, but as soon as he heard about the project, he called me up to offer moral support.

Speaking of the Spanish-language bird guide, another person who is doing great things for outdoors diversity is Tamberly Conway, at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas. She has been working with the U.S. Forest Service in Texas to promote a program called "Latino Legacy: Amigos del Bosque" (Friends of the Forest). This innovative program has had great success in reaching out to the Hispanic community and getting families to connect with nature on National Forest lands. We haven’t met her yet, but she and her colleague Maricruz Flores, one of the team leaders for Amigos del Bosque, will be coming to Ohio - - along with John Robinson and Dudley Edmondson - - to speak at our conference, Diversity in Outdoor Recreation: The Many Faces of Conservation, September 26 in Toledo. You can read all about that event on the Black Swamp Bird Observatory website here.

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