Nature Is For Everyone. But Is It Really?
Jamestown Audubon Society was formed in 1957 by a small group of people who were passionate about birds. Since then, we have grown to become our own 501c3 non-profit organization, which includes a staff of eleven people, close to 600 acres of land, more than 1,400 nature-based programs per year, and close to 1,000 member households.
In 2016, as an organization, we chose to undergo a name change to indicate that we are not just a society made up of bird-lovers. We made a conscious choice to add the word ‘community’ into our name showing that we are open and accessible to all. This was just the first step in an effort to create a more inclusive organization.
Since then, we have found that being a part of the community means that we have a responsibility to better understand the challenges that we face both locally and globally. Part of that is learning more about racial inequities within our culture and society. In recognition of Black History Month, I chose to take a deeper look into Audubon’s mission of connecting people to nature in hopes of understanding more about what barriers might be in place that I am not fully aware of.
Environmental organizations (including Audubon Community Nature Center) proudly claim that nature is for everyone. Anyone can go outside and take advantage of the natural world that surrounds us, right? While that is generally true, we might be overlooking some uncomfortable truths.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had many effects on us individually and as a country. It has also helped point out blatant environmental disparities within our communities. With the onset of the pandemic in 2020, people were encouraged to spend more time outdoors — for their health and well-being. This was easy for some, but more challenging for others.
A report published in July 2020 titled ‘The Nature Gap’, led by the Hispanic Access Foundation and the Center for American Progress, found that communities of color are almost three times more likely than white communities to live in “nature deprived areas.” They defined “nature deprived areas” as those that have less or no access to parks, paths, and green spaces.
Additionally, people of color are often seen as ‘dangerous’ and have been physically and verbally attacked in public while performing outdoor recreational activities such as bird watching and jogging.
The report states: “The unequal distribution of nature in America — and the unjust experiences that many people of color have in the outdoors — is a problem that national, state, and local leaders can no longer ignore. With scientists urging policymakers to protect at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and ocean by 2030 to address the biodiversity and climate crises, now is the time to imagine how, by protecting far more lands and waters over the next decade, the United States can guarantee every child in America the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of nature near their home.”
Audubon Community Nature Center’s vision is to provide real and healthy connections to nature for every child within the local community. We take that very seriously, and we want to ensure that we aren’t unintentionally leaving anyone out.
If communities of color are already three times as likely as white communities to live in nature deprived areas in 2023, then we need to recognize that fact now (at both the local and global levels) and consider that when we identify future locations of protected lands and waters. How can we work together to make sure that these communities voices are heard and that their lands are preserved and not continually diminished?
If people of color feel unsafe when they spend time outdoors — due to the numerous stories of black and brown people who have suffered attacks while birding, jogging, and partaking in other outdoor activities — then nature is not truly for everyone. How can we ensure that people of color feel safe and welcome to partake in outdoor recreational activities alongside their white peers?
I challenge all of us this February and beyond to expand our thinking from beyond Black History Month to learning more about the Black experience. The more we learn, the more we might be able to recognize unintentional (and intentional) biases. The more we listen, the more we might empathize and find ways to provide support.
After all, nature wasn’t designed in black and white. It was designed in color.
Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk and birds of prey can be viewed anytime the trails are open. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling 716-569-2345.
To read the full ‘Nature Gap’ report go to: The Nature Gap – Center for American Progress at www.americanprogress.org/article/the-nature-gap.