Issue #6: Engaging Culturally Diverse Audiences
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Engaging Culturally Diverse Audiences
A note from Natalie...

Relevancy and a Connected Conservation Constituency—these words have become ideals of the Refuge System and, more broadly, of the Service. But how do we achieve that relevance and expand that constituency? It begins with continuing to work with our traditional partners and embracing new ones. This requires an astute understanding of new and diverse audiences in order to effectively engage them.

Our Director, Dan Ashe, offered these words of guidance in a recent memo: "As we work to conserve the planet's rich blessings of biological diversity, let's also continue to make it our priority to reflect and respect the rich diversity of human culture, ethnicity, race, gender, religion, choice, and tradition."

As the U.S. continues to diversify, it’s important to identify and understand our audiences and be inclusive in our work and our protected spaces. But, lack of cultural awareness can cause communities to feel excluded if sent the wrong message. Unique histories and social norms contribute to every culture's perceptions and worldviews. Let's embrace these differences and learn to communicate with one another more compassionately and effectively, especially when it comes to our shared natural resources. 

- Natalie

Natalie Sexton
Human Dimensions Branch Chief
Natural Resource Program Center


Human Dimensions Foundations of Natural Resource Conservation
November 14-16, 2016
Shepherdstown, WV
Learn foundational concepts, methods, and applications of human dimensions.

Tune in to the latest episodes from The Human Dimensions Foundations of Conservation Podcast Series. You can listen via the National Digital Library or sign up on iTunes

 Building Visitor Centers, Building Relationships
Lessons learned from a collaborative effort between refuges and local tribes.

 Persuasive Communication for Behavior Change
Persuasive communication tips to influence behavior.

 Identifying and Engaging Stakeholders
Tools for stakeholder identification and engagement. 
A Diverse Constituency

Did you know that by 2044 there will no longer be a majority ethnic group in the United States? While non-Hispanic Whites will continue to make up the largest portion of the population, they will no longer make up the majority (more than 50%). 


In spite of this trend, results from the National Wildlife Refuge visitor survey show that 96% of visitors are non-Hispanic and White. The conservation movement and outdoor recreation world historically have lacked diverse participation and employment. Conservation practitioners trying to connect with ethnically diverse and under-served communities can incorporate strategies to more successfully engage all sectors of the American public. But we're not the only ones looking to challenge stereotypes. Check out this video, An American Ascent, about a group of African American climbers taking on Denali:

For the full story about these climbers, check out James Edward Mill's book, The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the OutdoorsAlso, have a listen to his podcast series, The Joy Trip Project, featuring Latinos' experience at Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“We must diversify our organizations, our profession, and our community. This must be a collective priority. We need to set measurable goals and attain them.”

- Dan Ashe, North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference.

Top Ten Must-Dos for Connecting with Culturally Diverse Communities

  1. Get to know your community: What are the demographics, who are the leaders, and what are the prominent community groups and activities that people take part in? Church, sports, school?
  2. Identify barriers to your audience’s access to and participation in programs, such as language barriers, transportation, financial expense, or lack of space for large families.
  3. Identify the needs of your community and its school(s). Educational family experiences, career opportunities and health benefits are often seen as good reasons to participate in nature activities.
  4. Partner with community groups and schools; they are already connected to and trusted by community members and they can take you a step closer.
  5. Recognize our agency’s historical and current community relationships. Research and ask community leaders about community members' historical and cultural associations with nature and recreation. To find out more, check out: “Visitor diversity through the recreation manager lens” and “Parks and Under-served Audiences.”
  6. Promote volunteer and employment opportunities. Representation by all segments of your local community within our workforce creates an environment in which diversity feels welcome and brings on board diverse views of the world and nature. 
  7. Build trust for a long-term relationship. Consistency, commitment, and follow-through are key.
  8. Include communities in decisions. Create ownership among community members by asking what ideas and needs they have for projects, and follow-up with an explanation if their ideas are not utilized. For an example of community ownership within the Service, listen to the new “Building Visitor Centers, Building Relationships" Human Dimensions of Conservation podcast.
  9. Consider each ethnic group independently. Some characteristics can be attributed to broader groups, such as Hispanics'/Latinos’ preference for Spanish language, but there are also traits unique to subgroups. Rely on local leaders for the specifics of your community.
  10. Find ways to incorporate historical and cultural elements into engagement efforts that make a natural or historic place significant to local cultures, not just to United States history. We are far more likely to care about a place or habitat if we can see how it is relevant to our identity, heritage, and life.

The Basics of Cross-Cultural Communication


When greeting each other, some cultures bow, some shake hands, and some touch noses. So where on Earth do we start in order to be culturally respectful?! Here are some basic considerations recommended by cross-cultural communication experts:
  • Self-Awareness: To understand another culture, you must first understand your own culture and your own values! Being aware of your own worldview can help you understand others'.
  • Time: Western cultures tend to view time more rigidly: the past is the past, the future is straight ahead. But Eastern cultures may view time more holistically: the past, present and future all exist simultaneously. Staying open to these varying interpretations and experiences of time can be helpful in creating an inclusive space for discussion, scheduling, and overall pace.
  • Individualistic vs. Collective Cultures: The U.S.' adoption of self-sufficiency and reliance can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution; people are considered to be independent. Other cultures, such as some in Asia, Central America, South America and Africa, view people as part of a larger group who are interdependent. These worldviews affect how individuals communicate and make decisions.  
  • Nonverbal Communication: Most Western cultures rely more on verbal communication than on nonverbal communication. Whereas many Eastern and Latin-American cultures understand and rely on subtle, nonverbal cues like facial expressions, personal space, and social roles. Take a look at this Minnesotan author's enlightening explanation of less 'verbal' cultures:
HD in Action: Stories of Integration from the Field
Tylar Greene (left) is a public affairs specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region. Tanya Lama (right) is a Pathways biological intern in the Northeast Region working on Spanish-language communications and outreach, and she is a PhD student at University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Conservation.

Connecting with a changing America—Proud, diverse and growing 
By Tylar Greene and Tanya Lama

On a blazing hot summer day in early June in Maryland, we were with a group of interns walking along the Scarlet Tanager Loop trail at Patuxent Research Refuge through the forest often referred to as the “green lungs” of the Washington D.C.-Baltimore area. As we approached Lake Redington, dotted with lotus flowers and lily pads, we were flagged down by three men. They asked us if they were allowed to be there and wanted to know if they could swim—something we were wishing we could do ourselves! We told them they were very welcome to be there, and while there’s no swimming, there is fishing and other recreation opportunities. Seems like a pretty ordinary refuge interaction, but there was something unique about it…

First, our interns were all Latino. This is the inaugural year of the Service’s partnership with the Hispanic Access Foundation. The Foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of Latinos in the U.S. and seven of their interns are at seven urban refuges in the Northeast this summer. As of 2014, the workforce of the Service was only 18 percent non-white. So it’s not every day you come across a crew of Latino Service staff roaming the trails.

Second, the men were Latino. As we chatted we learned they were from Honduras. A survey of visitors to Patuxent in 2010-2011 revealed that 93 percent of visitors are white and only three percent are Hispanic or Latino. So it’s not every day that you come across a group of Latino visitors roaming the trails either.


First cohort of Hispanic Access Foundation interns during orientation
and a nature walk at Patuxent Research Refuge.
Photo credit: USFWS Northeast Region

The Service continues to make efforts to not only educate and inform, but to provide opportunities for people to show support for what they care about. Paul Mohai, author of the study “Dispelling Old Myths: African-American Concern for the Environment,” found that black Americans express significantly greater concern than white Americans about their local environment, which correlates with the poorer environmental quality found in black neighborhoods. The study also showed that black people actively make decisions that are good for the planet and are as likely as white people to belong to environmental groups.  

Latinos in U.S. urban areas are also disproportionately affected by poor environmental conditions like air pollution and water pollution (National Hispanic Medical Association; Natural Resources Defense Council). And Latinos also demonstrate a strong commitment to conservation, the environment, and a genuine interest in how climate change is impacting their families and communities (EarthJustice & GreenLatinos). For both groups, addressing environmental policy issues is not a luxury, but a priority for improved health and quality of life.

However, Blacks and Latinos are underrepresented in the workforces of mainstream conservation organizations and in visitation to refuges. As our nation’s population grows more diverse, it might lead you to wonder whether our agency can become more inclusive and reflect the diversity of America, both in our workforce and in the communities that we serve.

The Service is rising to the occasion and we are striving to provide opportunities and a welcoming environment for everyone to experience the great outdoors in a manner they find enjoyable. We are also communicating the benefits of visiting and supporting refuges, which provide clean air and water, serve as storm buffers, and protect vulnerable communities from flooding. By doing so, we garner advocates and support for our work.

The three Latino men we met that day at Patuxent may never have felt welcome without communication from us about the refuge, the Service, and recreational opportunities, all in their preferred language. We were able to do something for them that we want to do for all visitors at refuges: we made them feel comfortable and gave them the necessary information to enjoy their visit. And we hope our new friends will spread the word.
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Want to Learn More About Engaging Diverse Audiences?

Great news… there are TONS of resources available on this topic!

The Evolving Language of Diversity - learn to choose the words you use to describe different people and groups respectfully and deliberately

"Made for you and Me" podcast episode from NPR (National Public Radio) discusses cultural connections to the outdoors

Embracing the Cultural Diversity of our Visitors and Stakeholders Broadcast from Human Dimensions of Natural Resources Conservation Broadcast Series

Understanding a Changing America: A Key to Successful Conservation podcast

Visitor Diversity through the Recreation Manager Lens journal article

Beyond Outreach Handbook: A Guide for Engaging Diverse Communities by the National Park Service

The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations report from Green 2.0 about the need for inclusion

Barriers and Strategies to Connecting Urban Audiences to Wildlife and Nature: Results from a Multi-Method Research Project USFWS report and similar resources from the Urban Wildlife Conservation Program

Engaging New and Diverse Audiences in the National Parks: An Exploratory Study of Current Knowledge and Learning Needs journal article
*photo credits: USFWS; US Census Bureau; Wild Vision Films;

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US Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resource Program Center, Human Dimensions Branch · 1201 Oakridge Drive, Fort Collins, CO, United States · Fort Collins, CO 80525 · USA