We stand with Black sportsmen and women as we examine our role in creating change as a conservation nonprofit
As protests take place in cities across our nation and headlines about justice for racial equity and the loss of Black lives fill our newsfeeds, it’s impossible not to reflect on our own attitudes, biases, and actions. This is particularly important to do personally as a white male who has never experienced any form of racism and, in fact, has benefited because of the color of my skin and gender.
For members of the hunting, fishing, and conservation community, these times also demand that we look critically at the world we inhabit and ask whether we want to be a part of the problem or part of the solution.
Hunting and fishing in this country should be as egalitarian as any aspect of life in America. Unlike in other countries, our North American Model of Conservation has seven key tenets, including that all Americans have the right to hunt and fish, and fish and game are owned by the people, not the government, corporations, or individuals. We have more than 640 million acres of federal lands that are owned by all Americans and are open for hunting and fishing unless they are specifically closed. We have laws designed to ensure that we have clean water, healthy habitats, and plentiful fish and wildlife.
However, racism within our community threatens the North American Model and the future relevance of hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation, just like it does all other aspects of society. Don’t believe me? Look at what happened to Christian Cooper as he was birdwatching in Central Park. Read Chad Brown’s article in Hatch magazine, or listen to Durrell Smith’s interview on The Flush Podcast.
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s mission is to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish. ALL Americans. In no way do I emphasize those words to discount the current and much-needed focus on #BlackLivesMatter, but rather to underscore that the important work of addressing systemic racism in outdoor spaces and the outdoor industry is intrinsic to our organizational goals. We must resolve to serve as allies and drive change for Black Americans in our community. We must also ensure that Hispanics and Latinos, women, and other underrepresented communities feel welcome in hunting and fishing and safe when enjoying these activities.
The absence of this safe and welcoming environment all but guarantees we will never achieve our mission. To turn a blind eye to the shortcomings in our world is not only morally wrong, it jeopardizes the future relevance of hunting, fishing, and conservation.
So, what can we do to effect change? We need to listen and learn. We need to examine our own biases and accept honest feedback. We must admit what we don’t know and that we haven’t yet done enough. To be sure, plenty of difficult, uncomfortable work lies ahead of us.
Organizationally, we want to be transparent about the journey we’re on, shed light on the challenges we face, and publicly reaffirm our commitment to help build a more inclusive, equitable, and diverse hunting and fishing community.
Several years ago, we saw a need to respond to changing trends in the hunting and fishing community and society at large. Hunting and fishing numbers were declining, and America was and still is shifting to become more culturally and racially diverse.
At that time, we launched an effort to understand and engage with the Hispanic community. To that end, we developed a partnership with the Hispanic Access Foundation. Last year we hired a Hispanic outreach coordinator and then we hosted our first ever Hispanic Sportsmen and Women’s Summit, and we are currently working with state fish and wildlife agencies to help direct resources where they can be used to reduce barriers to entry for new Hispanic hunters and anglers.
Internally, we drafted a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) plan for the TRCP. The plan reflects the voices of our leadership team and staff at every level, and it focuses our immediate work on achieving tangible outcomes where we have direct control, like the representation of our board and staff. We’ve done initial staff and board training on DEI.
Have no doubt that this is only a start. Our DEI plan will serve as a living, breathing document and will remain open to improvement and refinement over time. This work will be a journey, not a destination. We will make mistakes along the way, but we will learn from these missteps.
In the meantime, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership stands with our Black members, partners, and staff. We recognize that we cannot achieve our mission until we address the obstacles that Black and other people of color face while hunting and fishing. As we do this, we welcome your honest feedback—and we are listening.
Top photo by Aaron Burden.