Making a Call for a More Inclusive Outdoors on Black Birders Week, and All Year Long

Two bills being considered in Congress would help make outdoor spaces more inclusive by making access more equitable.

Access to the outdoors is a fundamental experience for many first and long time bird watchers of all backgrounds. It’s extra special when their journeys begin in local parks, because it shows how important parks are to a community’s quality of life. They provide essential green infrastructure and jobs in cities and towns across the country and host important stopover habitat for migrating and resident bird species throughout the year. This is an important time to make meaningful investments in parks that will center communities, benefit birders, and protect the birds that call those parks home. 

Just as the COVID-19 pandemic amplified the need for green spaces, it also magnified the effects of longstanding inequalities, particularly on marginalized Black, brown, and Indigenous communities. People of color are three times more likely than white individuals to live in places that have no immediate access to nature and 70 percent of low-income communities across the country live in nature deprived areas. This reality is a consequence of a long history of systemic racial and economic inequlaties - including job discrimination, redlining, and racially targeted voilence or threats of violence

The lack of diversity and inclusion in outdoor spaces can be traced back to the very beginning of parks in the United States. Despite this history that has led to the current lack of diverse representation in outdoor spaces, there is no lack of interest, ideas, or leadership working to change the status quo. We know this because in June 2020, amid calls for racial equity and justice, #BlackBirdersWeek demonstrated that the Black experience goes beyond trauma, and that it includes joy, pride, resistance, strength, and style. 

#BlackBirdersWeek is a week-long series of online events with a goal to uplift Black birders and topics of cultural inclusivity in the outdoors. This annual initiative demonstrates the broad influence of Black leaders in birding that are working to achieve equitable access to the outdoors for everyone. Addressing historic discrimination in nature-based outdoor recreation acitivites, like birding, requires a call for cultural change as well as improved federal and state policy.

The federal government has a role in dismantling the systemic barriers faced by Black birders and other historically marginalized communities in accessing the outdoors. There are two bills in Congress that can help the movement to make the outdoors more inclusive by making access more equitable. Quality parks and recreational areas can reinforce the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, funding is needed to create these green spaces, and Congress has a role to ensure everyone has outdoor access.

On March 9, 2021, U.S. Representatives Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), Michael Turner (R-Ohio) and Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) introduced the Parks, Jobs, and Equity Act (PJE Act) to provide an historic one-time stimulus of $500 million for urban parks and recreational areas.This bill will support job creation, economic revitalization, and park development for communities impacted by COVID-19 and who have historically seen the least investment in green spaces in their areas. 

The Park, Jobs and Equity Act would directly create 8,000 new jobs, add $1.37 billion to community economies across the country, and fund more than 1,000 new or upgraded local parks through a formula grant to states to fund local park projects. This funding can also employ the many benefits of natural infrastructure, like trees for climate resilience and carbon storage. The additional shade from trees in parks mitigates intensely hot temperatures from the heat island effect. Due to the way parks and cities are designed, this typically affects Black, Brown, and lower-income people the most, and the effects will continue to get worse if we do nothing to address climate change. 

This legislation will also help close the outdoor equity gap by expanding access to the benefits of nature and pairing it with needed economic recovery. 50 percent of the funding will be invested in low-income communities, with priority given to projects that create or significantly enhance park and recreational opportunities for urban areas that lack parks and/or outdoor recreation areas within a 10-minute walk. 

Equitable outdoor access for all is also a key feature of the Environmental Justice For All Act that was reintroduced in the House and Senate this year. This bill would support more equitable access to parks and recreational areas by prioritizing projects and recreational opportunities, like birding, that benefit under-resourced urban centers. 

This comprehensive environmental measure would also strengthen the Civil Rights Act by prohibiting discrimination based on disparate impact, overturning a legal precedent to allow private citizens, residents, and organizations to seek legal remedy when faced with such discrimination-this would help begin to reverse systemic inequities and harmful environmental impacts that have existed for decades. Additionally, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) would be amended to require that federal agencies provide early, meaningful, and robust community involvement opportunities when proposed projects are affecting an environmental justice community, and the process will include an assessment of cumulative environmental impacts, including climate change.

Currently, we have a window of opportunity to codify principles of justice and equity into how we develop future environmental and economic policy into the future. Demonstrate your commitment to ensuring a more accessible and equitable outdoors for everyone by clicking here

As we celebrate #BlackBirdersWeek, I’m more hopeful than ever that the future of birding will be more equitable, inclusive, and diverse by enacting these types of legislation.