When is the last time you visited a National Park? What did you see? More importantly, who did you see? National parks are part of the public lands system, which are held in trust for the American people by the federal government. Yet the reality is that only a small proportion of this nation’s people enjoy the benefits of the public lands system. In fact, public lands are lands appropriated by the federal government from indigenous people, who thrived and survived on these lands long before the federal government existed, and whose rights to these lands are still limited today.
Lands held in trust by the federal government should be accessible to all people, when they visit they should see their faces reflected, their cultures respected and honored, and their voices incorporated into protection and management plans.
The Next 100 Coalition is a network of organizations working to construct a strategic policy agenda to address access and protection of public lands while promoting a more equitable and just public lands and conservation system. On May 4-5th, 2018 the Next 100 Coalition convened a summit in Las Vegas, Nevada.
As an opening to the summit, Fawn Douglas (member of the Las Vegas Paiute Tribe) welcomed summit participants to this place that the Moapa Paiute and Las Vegas Paiute call home.
The summit covered a range of topics from diversity, equity, and inclusion to accessibility to political challenges to diverse workplaces and to mental health in the outdoors. The summit was well attended by people from diverse backgrounds, representatives from Conservation Lands Foundation, North Face, Latino Outdoors, The Wilderness Society, Grand Canyon Trust, and our very own Landscape Conservation Initiative.
Our participation in this summit is just one of the actions LCI is taking to build a more inclusive conservation system. One of our cornerstone education programs is the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, an 18-month program for 20 undergraduates from diverse backgrounds. While I could write about all the things we try to teach our scholars, one of the most important aspects of this program is what we learn from them. By engaging with the next generation of conservation leaders, we have, as an organization, grown in our understanding of how to better support conservation efforts regionally and nationally.
For example, our scholars have expressed the importance of going into workplaces that respect their individual identities and honor their knowledge. We have reached out to our partners to work together to build cultural competency within their own organizations and improve their recruitment and onboarding of diverse staff, while developing our own internal strategies. Our scholars have also emphasized that social justice and environmental protection must work together towards mutual goals, and that all stakeholders must be a part of any conservation process. It was this knowledge and perspective that I took with me to the Next 100 Coalition Summit, amplifying our scholars voices to help drive a conservation policy agenda that focuses on shared values, intersectionality, and justice.
We are welcoming a new group of scholars in the next few weeks, for eight weeks of place-based learning on the Colorado Plateau. We will engage in reciprocal learning on conservation science, management, policy, advocacy, and communication while immersing ourselves in the biological and cultural richness of the region. I am very excited to continue learning from the scholars and to incorporate their wisdom into the other work Landscape Conservation Initiative is engaged in.