Diversity is essential when it comes to stewarding public lands

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The Hill recently reported that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told his staff that diversity in hiring within the Department and its 100,000-strong workforce is not a priority. While this is troubling, to put it mildly, we welcome a larger public conversation about how ethnic, cultural, race and gender inclusion is essential when it comes to stewarding and accessing America’s treasured public lands. 

The irrefutable reality is that over 40 percent of “we the people” in America today are people of color and the country’s population will continue to grow and experience a richer diversity than ever before. The original inhabitants of this great land are the Native American tribes and the descendants of the indigenous cultures of the Americas in the pre-colombian era, which were most certainly not white.

{mosads}America’s diversity is, in fact, a key building block of our country’s great character — and its future economy. Studies continue to show that companies with greater ethnic and racial diversity are 35 percent more likely to have better financial returns than their competitors. The more we embrace inclusion, the more we see the economic and cultural benefits of having diversity in our boardrooms, our schools and our communities.


So, to insinuate that diversity is irrelevant to the hiring in any agency is not only absurd but an approach that weakens the investment taxpayers are making in their government.

The same holds true for managing and experiencing the country’s natural assets, which is what the Department of Interior oversees through the Bureau of Land Management. While America is blessed with a rich and vast public land heritage, valued and enjoyed by many, people from culturally diverse backgrounds have not been equitably represented or supported in their pursuit of the benefits of America’s natural legacy.

This runs counter to the level of interest and engagement happening on the ground. According to a Next 100 Coalition survey, America’s public lands are universally beloved among voters of color. Four in five voters of color support the creation of new parks and monuments, and 95 percent believe it’s important for young people to see their cultures and histories reflected in America’s public lands. 

Diverse groups of Americans don’t support Zinke’s agenda to strip public lands of protection. When it comes to protecting national monuments in particular, it might surprise some to learn that there are great similarities in values among diverse ethnicities, political leanings and recreational users: 73 percent of white voters, 62 percent of Republican voters, 63 percent of sportsmen, 59 percent of African Americans and 86 percent of Hispanics oppose Zinke’s proposal to remove protected status from and reduce the size of our national monuments.

Secretary Zinke’s comments also clearly ignore the demographic of those who will comprise the Interior Department’s future workforce. The Census Bureau predicts that by 2043, a majority of U.S. residents will be people of color. Two years from now, by 2020, half of America’s youth will be ethnically and racially diverse. People of color hired today will be among the guardians of our public lands for much of the rest of the 21st century.

As a society, we know that if we don’t pass down through the generations our values about nature and natural places, we put these places at grave risk. As our population continues to diversify, grow and live longer, we will need a greater number of us connected to and actively involved in protecting America’s lands, water, wildlife, and energy resources. This is the mission of the Department of Interior, as it is to “honor our nation’s responsibilities to tribal nations, and advocate for America’s island communities.”

We encourage Zinke to follow the lead of America’s leading companies and incorporate diverse viewpoints into the workforce at the Department of Interior, especially at a time when families of color are visiting national parks and accessing local public lands in numbers greater than ever, and growing.

Surely, we can all agree that experiencing America’s beauty through our national monuments’ wild spaces not only promotes a healthy lifestyle, it also connects us to the histories preserved in America’s monuments and natural areas, and inspires “we the people” to protect vulnerable public lands for future generations to enjoy.

Chiqui Cartagena serves on the board of directors of the Conservation Lands Foundation and is the author of “Latino Boom!”  

Jose Gonzalez is the founder of recreation advocacy organization Latino Outdoors.

Tags Chiqui Cartagena Diversity Interior Department Jose Gonzalez Parks public lands Ryan Zinke

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