U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the Hispanic community
The gap between the Hispanic community and the recreation organizations.(Shutterstock)

By Juniper Rose

While Hispanics make up more than 17% of the nation’s population, a 2013 outdoor recreation report shows that only 7%of those who participate in outdoor recreation are Hispanic. Even fewer Hispanics, about 4%, engage in fish and wildlife restoration and conservation.

Is it a lack of interest on the part of the Hispanic community or a lack of outreach by the restoration and recreation organizations and industries that has fostered this gap?

Members of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledge that while Hispanics are affected by the issues USFWS addresses just as much as their neighbors, neither the government nor outdoor industries have reached out to this rapidly growing U.S. population segment.

While initiatives to increase diversity in the USFWS’s 10,000-member workforce within the Department of Interior is a continuing process, no bureau within the department had specifically addressed diversity in consumer and participant involvement, until six months ago, says Noemi Pérez of the USFWS Office of Partner Liaison.

Five months ago Pérez was appointed to the position of nontraditional stakeholders and media director. She set out to develop the nontraditional stakeholders platform which would include all groups that have a vested interested in becoming stewards for the protection of fish and wildlife. Wildlife conservation and environmental restoration is the base step indeveloping a healthy environment for humans and wildlife alike, Hispanics cannot ignore the issue, nor can Hispanics be ignored, Pérez explained.

“Our leadership and our partners are aware the country is changing,” said Doug Hobbs, chief of the office of partnership liaison at USFWS. “If we are going be successful, people need to support what we do. It needs to be relevant in their lives, and we need to make some effort to reach out to people who are not usually involved.”

Hispanics and the environment

Historically Latinos, alongside other indigenous peoples of the Americas, have been stewards of the environment. Over time urban living and monetary restrictions have been a factor in pushing Hispanics away from these areas, however the drift was also in part due to lack of outreach, Hobbs says.

The USFWS has traditionally considered hunting and fishing, conservation and refuge organizations and recreation businesses as “traditional stakeholders,” he says, and it is seeking to broaden that reach.

Nontraditional stakeholders are groups that have not been actively involved with the USFWS. “We need to show (Hispanic families) how it makes a difference in their lives and make them a part of our moving forward, being advocates for conservation, outdoor recreation and all of the things our traditional partners have been working toward.”

The USFWS sponsored a Sept. 18 Hispanic Heritage Month celebration to invigorate the department’s outreach effort. The mixer centered around a book-signing by Ray Suárez, author of Latino Americans: 500 Years that Shaped a Nation, just published simultaneous in English and Spanish. The national associations of Hispanic, Asian American and LGBT journalists and D.C. black journalists chapter, along with the National Park Service and the Department of Interior, joined in sponsoring the event.

“At the end of the day we want everyone to be on a level playing field, and in some ways be advocates for themselves,” Hobbs says. “What is good for the wildlife and habitat is ultimately good for us humans as well.” He calls the multifaceted outreach strategy “a new model…We can’t just sit back and assume people will be interested.” He is promoting the project as one other bureaus can employ in their diversity outreach.

USFWS deputy director Rowan Gould suggests, “What we do impacts the fabric of the country culturally.” A biologist who has worked with USFWS for almost 40 years, he emphasizes that the people dealing with environmental issues in 20 to 30 years will be different. “We have to change to be relevant. As a biologist, I understand you need people who can look at things differently.” As society changes, so must its institutions. “It is almost as simple as that,” he says.

Juniper J. Rose is a reporter with Hispanic Link News Service in Washington, D.C. Her email: JuniperJRose@gmail.com

To read this article in Spanish and other Hispanic news, go to HispanicLink.org.

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