The previous five installments of this seven-part series described the five essential ingredients to begin to reach a diverse constituency for birds and their habitats:
Ideally, all five considerations should be used in combination to be effective in successfully reaching communities of diversity and in building an interest in birds.
To avoid becoming marginalized, if not simply irrelevant, bird education and bird conservation must embrace a diversified outreach strategy, on which can address and engage diverse and under-served constituencies.
This is not a question of "political correctness." Rather, it is an issue of simple survival. If bird conservation - or environmentalism as a whole - does not "look like America", then it will fail miserably as we get deeper into the 21st century.
Today, we are witnessing the most significant assault on bird conservation in our lifetimes - a crisis of poor funding, insufficient awareness, and an utter lack of political will. It is inadequate to rely, once again, on the "usual advocates and supporters" already committed to the cause. Furthermore, vaguely pointing to the broad American interest in birds and birding will simply not cut it. The sobering reality is that while bird interest may be broad, it is insufficiently deep for most people.
This is where reaching communities of diversity comes in.
Strategies for engaging communities of diversity may require more of the "right types" of nature exposure, or entirely different approaches to ethnic or socioeconomic groups who are not currently likely to engage in outdoor activities. It will require the five ingredients outlined in the past five issues of the BEN Bulletin and mentioned above.
People need the opportunity to discover and interact with birds and nature. Repeated trips outdoors and exposure to birds will serve to further their appreciation of and familiarity with the natural world. Given all the skills involved with finding and identifying birds, relevant mentors (usually experienced adults) are critical to successfully "raising" a new birder, young or old. Colleagues, or birding buddies, of the same age, race, or other characteristic increases the comfort level of these activities and provides a more enjoyable field experience, which in turn increases the likelihood of "repeat customers." Finally, our birders-to-be need ongoing support - financial, institutional, organizational - to keep their interest alive, to continue learning about birds and their conservation needs, and to become full-fledged stewards of birds and nature.
Refuges, parks, museums, zoos, nature centers, clubs, and festivals can all have roles to play in addressing the problems at hand.
Ultimately, the fate of birdlife, biodiversity, and intact ecosystems may depend less on rates of habitat loss or invasive species, less on the best and most biologically accurate "bird conservation plans," and more on public perception of whether conservation in general, or bird conservation in particular, should be supported at all!
It's time to engage in actions to make a difference.
Are we bird educators ready for the challenge?