Guest blog: Is Nature and the Outdoors for Everyone?

WI Green Fire, May 18, 2023

people holding hands

By Nancy Franz, WGF Science Council member and advisor for WGF’s Aspiring Conservation Professionals Work Group.

I take Wisconsin’s Green Fire’s mission seriously: “Wisconsin citizens enjoy the benefits of clean water, clean air, and healthy ecosystems achieved through scientific and thoughtful management of natural resources.” However, I sometimes wonder if all people feel comfortable enjoying Wisconsin’s natural resources. What if you aren’t a citizen as stated in our vision? What if you live where there is limited access to thriving natural resources?  I’ve deeply contemplated why diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice are important for conservation, what barriers prevent people from engaging with natural resources, what Wisconsin’s Green Fire does to enhance this engagement, and what can individuals do to make conservation and engaging with natural resources more enjoyable and meaningful for a wider variety of people.

I’ve attended lots of webinars and gatherings, read a lot of books, and talked with a variety of people about making conservation more accessible. Some notable experiences have been with Wisconsin’s Green Fire. I’ve rediscovered and reaffirmed that wider inclusion in engaging with natural resources creates more durable conservation impacts, improves human wellness, and develops community by bringing us closer to each other. These are important outcomes, so where is everyone?

My exploration of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in conservation and management of natural resources has surfaced barriers that prevent some people from engaging with nature and the outdoors. These include lack of transportation/mobility, communication, gear, experience, skills, mentors, and leaders that look like them, social supports, and other resources. More deeply, the root causes of thwarted conservation engagement stems from a lack of an authentic invitation to participate, a lack of shared power in decision making, cultural and personal history that results in fear, bad experiences, or lack of confidence. Some organizational policies, practices, and procedures that limit engagement also prevent or reduce participation of a wide variety of people in the outdoors.

So, what is Wisconsin’s Green Fire doing to address and reduce these barriers to engage a wider variety of people in conservation? The organization has integrated diversity, equity, and inclusion in its work overall. More importantly, practices have expanded to encourage wider participation in conservation. Here are two of my favorite examples:

One recent Wisconsin’s Green Fire newsletter provided additional important supports for organizational development to help conservation work and management of natural resources more accessible and comfortable.

However, the great work by the organization doesn’t have a strong impact unless every one of us takes action aligned with the organization’s vision. So, what can each of us do to connect a wider variety of people with conservation and natural resource management? Here are some ways I support this important effort:

  • Donate funds and other resources for targeted programs that reduce engagement barriers.
  • Encourage a wide variety of people to serve on Wisconsin’s Green Fire Board, the organization’s Science Council and work groups, and to become employees and volunteers.
  • Help build partnerships with organizations that support getting a larger variety of people outdoors and into conservation and management of natural resources.
  • Personally bring people outdoors who are new to the experience or location or want to enhance competence to understand conservation and management of natural resources more deeply.
  • Be an architect of environments that enhance engagement in both indoor and outdoor spaces focused on conservation and management of natural resources. I take extra effort to be welcoming, kind, and respectful. I try to dampen my extroverted nature to listen and empathize more deeply. I also model personal actions to support engagement including suggesting and supporting appropriate practice and policy changes that help the organization and its work be more accessible and comfortable.

I’m looking forward to seeing more people than ever before enjoying Wisconsin’s Green Fire groups, publications, events, and programs. I hope you’ll join me to help realize this important goal.

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