Home > Clemson, Conservation, Education, Minority, Natural Resources, University, Wildlife > Minority Involvement in Natural Resources Still An Issue

Minority Involvement in Natural Resources Still An Issue

Minority involvement in natural resources and closely related fields has been a hot topic since at least, the late 1970s. It was in 1977 that The Wildlife Society took initiative and conducted their first survey of women and ethnic minorities’ presence in these sciences referring to ethnic minorities as Blacks, Hispanics, American Indian, Oriental, Aleut/Eskimo and Other (international students). So how far has the natural resource profession come in increasing minority involvement? What factors hinder progress, if any? And what methods are being pursued to address the lack of minority representation?

Dr. Harry Hodgen conducted a study looking into women and ethnic minority representation in the natural resource field plus closely related disciplines. In this 1977 study it was found that of 11,858 students at 63 natural resource schools responding to the questionnaire only 3.1% were minorities or 370 people were enrolled (Hodgen 1980).  By the next study two years later of 16, 287 only 3.7% were ethnic minorities (Hodgen 1982). Today enrollment of ethnic minorities continues to be a struggle pursued by multiple natural resource universities and agencies as population projections depict a higher minority population by 2050 (http://www.census.gov/population/www/pop-profile/natproj.html) and wish to reflect this representation among students and personnel. A study by Environmental Careers Organization (Taylor 2007) showed that a number of prominent environmental organizations lacked diversity on their staffs. The result of ECO’s  study enacted response from several of the groups to alter how minorities are recruited, instill affirmative action plans and network in minority communities (Taylor 2007). What’s sad (and accepted as true) as I read from Taylor’s research is that these environmental organizations feel that minorities don’t accept natural resource positions because of low salary or simply not enough of them apply. Why? Is it because not enough is being done?

“When the above disparity was addressed as an issue in the early 1970s, professional societies,       universities, industries, and governments responded with programs to diversify the science workforce. Almost 3 decades later, little improvement can be identified.” (Referring to the realization of the increasing minority population but the lack of equal representation in natural resources and related fields). Davis 2002

Somewhere along the line something, SOMEONE, is missing. Today we see many organizations looking to increase diversity but I haven’t been able to discern how effective or ineffective their programs are as none seem to report data on their successes or misses so that others may follow.

I developed an interest in wildlife at the age on ten after my family obtained our dog Rex (RIP). Shortly after gaining Rex the local library began setting magazines outside for free or else they’d be thrown away. These magazines were Wildlife Conservation, International Wildlife Conservation and a few Sierra Club publications. I would greedily watch that box for new magazines to take home extract all the articles, the front and back covers, and wildlife pictures scattered throughout the advertisement pages (I would cut these out) and place them in three-ring binder notebooks to read. So between 4th and 5th grade this is what I did, and to this day I have all three article packed notebook. My love for wildlife was fixed at that age. I didn’t hunt then. I was even a preservationist (despite the wildlife conservation magazines) having read ‘Man Kind?’ by Amory Cleveland and was adamant that every creature, and tree should live until I picked up a magazine by the National Wildlife Turkey Federation.

Because this magazine was still owned by my library I couldn’t devour its pages at home and keep them but during my fifth grade year NWTF had a contest where middle school students had to define in an essay what conservation means to them. It was then at the library that I finally gained understanding of what conservation meant through the eyes of someone else my age because I could read all the wildlife magazines I wanted but none of them had explained it the way I needed to hear it. I walked home that day a newborn conservationist. Through the years it was my own drive and at times those of my parents that spurned me to continue in wildlife. Little pay? So what! I determined in 4th grade that as long as I can go home at the end of the day smiling and wake up excited money means nothing. There was no one in my life to direct me,, minority or not, and I didn’t meet my first wildlife professional until I reached college, and the first minority in wildlife, Dr. Drew Lanham, until then. What’s wrong with this picture?

“We believe there is substantial interest in natural resources in the minority community, but there are limited sources from which potential students can find out about professional opportunities (McCoy 1990).”  High school and even junior college guidance counselors generally have little knowledge of natural resource professions, or they may discourage minorities from considering such careers (Massey 1992).” I, too, faced this sort of discouragement coming through high school, but I wasn’t willing to let go. My only resource was the internet and my treasured magazines from years ago, but I had little knowledge to rely on otherwise. I was never able to participate in community natural resource camps because they required funds my family didn’t have and when I was able to participate in camp it was a recreational day camp unrelated to wildlife. So the picture becomes distorted when there aren’t a sufficient numbers of people who are advertising (I feel this is what it boils down to) natural resources as a career option. I was able to pull through but what about everyone else?

Something else I’ve come to realize in writing this is that some minorities feel that, “Career opportunities in natural resources disciplines should be marketed in terms of the diversity of technical skills and academic training…. Regardless of type of work, job title, technical training, or academic background, many respondents’ comments revealed that they wanted to feel that they were full partners in the natural resource management process (Adams 1998).” However later on in this study by Dr. Adams in the Southeast on opinions of majority and minority natural resource professionals[1] in increasing minority representation some of the initial non-respondents indicated that they did not reply because they felt that “because of their job titles, job descriptions, departments of employment, and educational backgrounds they did not think of themselves as natural resource professionals.” Others considered “the natural resource professional as a field technician or someone who has a direct interaction with the outdoors as part of their job responsibility (Adams 1998).”  This leads me to think that the minority group is a difficult group to work with in being able to discern whether someone wants to be included or excluded….

Does this inclusion or exclusion depend on geographic locales? Why do or don’t people consider themselves natural resource professionals? Why is it a pervading thought that a natural resource professional is someone who works only outside? Do Administrative Assistants, Directors, or other professionals who do not work in the field consider themselves natural resource professionals or professionals who happen to work at a natural resource agency? I find it refreshing when there is a workforce of minds from various institutional backgrounds who collectively contribute to the mission of an agency of which they are able to become a family. As Dr. Adams said the natural resource needs a diversity of people who have a concern for the environment (Adams 1998).  Personally, I would find it hard to work every day at an agency whose mission and vision I neither know nor understand. I’d never be able to consider myself a part of the family….

***

Adams, C.E; M. Moreno . A Comparative Study of Natural Resource Professionals in Minority and Majority Groups in the Southeastern United States .Wildlife Society Bulletin, Vol. 26, No. 4, Commemorative Issue Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of “A Sand County Almanac” and the Legacy of Aldo Leopold (Winter, 1998), pp. 971-981

Davis, R.D Sr., S. Diswood, A. Dominguez, R. W. Engel-Wilson, K. Jefferson, A.K. Miles, E.F. Moore, R. Reidinger, S. Ruther, R. Valdez, K. Wilson, M. A. Zablan. Increasing Diversity in Our Profession. Wildlife Society Bulletin, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Summer, 2002), pp. 628-633

Hodgdon, H.E. Wildlife Enrollment of Women and Ethnic Minorities in 1979. Wildlife Society Bulletin, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Summer, 1982), pp. 175-180

Hodgdon, H.E. Enrollment of Women and Ethnic Minorities in Wildlife Curricula: 1977. Wildlife Society Bulletin, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Summer, 1980), pp. 158-163.

Maughan, O.E, D.L. Bounds, S.M. Morales, S.V. Villegas. A Successful Educational Program for Minority Students in Natural Resources. Wildlife Society Bulletin, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Autumn, 2001), pp. 917-928

Taylor D.E. Diversity and Equity in Environmental Organizations: The Salience of These Factors to Students The Journal of Environmental Education. FALL 2007, VOL. 39, NO. 1


[1] Dr. Clark Adams defines natural resource professionals as “those employed at a natural resource agency with training to follow a line of work specific to that field” (Adams 1998).

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  1. June 29, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Hey again. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind me linking to this post in an upcoming post of mine. It’s been a topic that’s been bothering me for years and then this season’s “The Wildlife Professional” magazine issued several articles on the lack and need of diversity within the field. I just can’t resist saying something, but I felt you had a lot of good points and insight. Let me know what you think.

  2. July 2, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    Hey! Sorry for not being able to get back sooner. You are welcome to use this post. Will you be mentioning the post on your blog ? Also, you may have already gotten wind of it but TWS recently put out word for a diversity scholarship to their conference this year. Now if only it weren’t just for students….

  3. July 3, 2011 at 8:20 am

    The delay is no problem, you told me you don’t have access all the time, and you’re probably busy too. Yes, I’d like to put a link up to the post right in a post of mine on the same subject. It’s been an issue I’ve noticed for years and after reading all of the articles in the magazine, it made me want to give a mini rant about it. It will be a week or two, I need to finish up my walk down memory lane first. Thank you for the permission 😉 Like I said, I really liked your insight here.

    I have heard about the scholarships, but you’re right, just for students! I would love to attend TWS conferences but so far they just cost too much. I was looking forward to this year being in PA but something happened and they moved it to HI. $$ Dont think I’d qualify for a diversity scholarship anyway unless mental diversity counts. Although I was surprised, reading the articles, to notice they were mentioning the lack of women in the field. I thought it was a bit more even than it is, just based on the things I’ve attended, but apparently this is quite different in the actual job force.

  4. July 24, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Put up my post with your link in it 😉 Thanks again

  1. July 22, 2011 at 10:00 am

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