clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Forest preserves need people of all backgrounds to do conservation work

Climate change particularly impacts low-income and communities of color, which bear a heavier burden from toxic water, contaminated air and dwindling natural resources.

Volunteers clear invasive species through a Cook County Forest Preserve initiative in this 2014 file photo.
Volunteers clear invasive species through a Cook County Forest Preserve initiative in this 2014 file photo.
Judy Fidkwoski/Sun-Times Media

Equity is a word that gets used a lot these days. But it’s more than a word. It’s an action that says much about how we operate.

As we recognize this Cook County Racial Equity Week, I still hear colleagues in philanthropy and the environmental fields question why we should champion diversity, equity and inclusion.

We should be beyond those questions now.

After attending a recent workshop, “Embedding Equity in Organizational Policies, Culture and Programs,” I noted the timeliness of it, particularly for the organization I lead, the Forest Preserve Foundation. We focus on environmental stewardship and conservation and view diversity, equity and inclusion through an equity lens.

Those principles are baked into the foundation’s funding approach, a distinction within the larger community of organizations that do conservation-related work.

Throughout its history, the conservation movement in the United States has attracted a narrow segment of the population — white, wealthier Americans. This demographic imbalance prevails today.

We’re committed to bringing more people of color and low-income young adults into the conservation field. We’ve supported more than 400 young people from Chicago and the Cook County suburbs through conservation internships we help fund. These mostly young African American and Latino residents come from low-income households, many served by the Housing Authority of Cook County.

The Forest Preserves needs people of all backgrounds to do conservation work that restores the county’s public lands to full ecological health. Internships provide opportunities that can lead to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers.

We’re also seeding the next generation of conservation activists, critically important as we confront a changing climate. Climate change particularly impacts low-income and communities of color, which bear a heavier burden from toxic water, contaminated air and dwindling natural resources.

And protecting the environment should be a priority for Chicago.

Ecological restoration is one way to combat climate change. Our work in this area is another way we elevate diversity, equity and inclusion.

Equity should touch all aspects of society, from employment to land management to the air we breathe. The Foundation is committed to equity and ensuring everyone has access to a vital public resource, the forest preserves.

Shelley Davis, president, Forest Preserve Foundation

SEND LETTERS TO: letters@suntimes.com. Please include your neighborhood or hometown and a phone number for verification purposes.

The global economy, conflict and legislation: how can we make a difference?

Fingers too often point to struggles for political dominance or representation, ideological quarrels and ethnic hatred as the root of violent conflict.

Of course, these are all legitimate claims, but easily reached.

Is homelessness caused by laziness and preference to poverty, or is it “the economy, stupid”?

Because, it really is the economy. We see the same for any civil war or drone strike by an unidentified adversary. A party, embittered with the opposition’s dominance is given rise by a charismatic, opportunistic leader, war is waged and economic resources are passed from hand to hand, border to border.

It is, at its core, those economic resources that matter most. The economy defines a party’s power.

The United States can play a crucial role in preventing such economic strife. Ours and others’ foreign aid, aimed at critical points in the developing world, is working toward doing just that. The Global Fragility Act, passed in May in the House, is an excellent example of American gumption for solving world problems.

By creating innovative strategies for addressing global poverty by targeting fragile countries, through funding addressing “the root causes of fragility, such as extreme poverty,” the U.S. can fund preventive causes. These causes are noted to less than $500,000 over the 2019-2024 period, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Not much can be done until the Senate, and then the president, say something. Sen. Dick Durbin, among 22 other senators, has already gone out of his way to cosponsor the bill, and I thank him for that.

When it comes to voting, we need to have more senators on board for such an indispensable piece of legislation. We have the power to make that happen. Say something, tell your friends, call and email Sen. Tammy Duckworth or your own senators.

Be the change.

Jacob Lang, Edgewater