Dean Dale Greene, along with the rest of the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources Faculty and Staff, instill values that will allow us to become leaders in the conservation and sustainable management of forests and other renewable natural resources, using the latest ideas and technology for real world application. I believe Warnell has created a comfortable environment for my fellow Warnellians to speak openly about controversial topics. As an African-American undergraduate forestry student and working for the National Park Service, serving as a member of the Society of American Foresters and being involved with various natural resource outreach events in the Athens-Clarke county community, I have witnessed the need for greater attention to race and ethnicity by all in the natural resource field. It is with this mindset, as we continue our service to the diverse U.S. population that we will attract more diversity to the natural resource profession and change perceptions that ethnic and racial minorities have about our work. Warnell has been monumental compared to the three other universities I have attended, by giving me an opportunity to proactively find solution to this dire issue.
This past November, I was able to attend the Society of American Foresters National Convention in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I represented Warnell as a Diversity Ambassador. Dr. Richard “Doc” Daniels, one of my favorite professors and mentor, introduced me to this opportunity. I must give him many thanks for doing so.
At the national convention I shared the same stage with some of the leading professionals in our industry to discuss the perceptions that racial and ethnic minorities have formed of our work. “How should we foster a culture of inclusion in the Natural Resources Profession?” was the tough question that we tried to answer. With shifting demographics, increased urbanization research illustrates that people are less connected to and are spending less time outdoors. This is one of a number of challenges that universities and employers face gaining talented individuals in our profession. I will say that many of us during our time together at the National Convention agreed that minorities are not given the same opportunity as others when it comes to working for land management companies and agencies. This is the cold hard truth. The land that we work to preserve and the animals and plants we protect are done so for the people of the United States. It is our duty to remain relevant to the population and manage our natural resources for the four different categories of ecosystem services: supporting, provisioning, regulating and cultural services. Examples of these services may range from a provisioning service of producing fresh water to the people of Flint, Michigan or managing lands found on various Native American reservations for continued cultural services.
Why should we care about charging the people in the field to be more culturally aware? We all have read Tragedy of the Commons and to my understanding as individuals act independently, while rational, they do so for their best interest, contrary to the best interest of the whole that will lead to depletion of common resources. Our overall mission is to preserve our lands and we can achieve this by keeping all people of the US in mind while making tough management decisions. It’s an uphill battle fighting the legacy of historical actions of discrimination and exclusion of cultural diversity that is still experience by many Americans. I challenge you all to be aware of this and find your own path to combat this issue.