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People of the Pacific: Susan Bonfield and Blanca Lopez

This black and white photo shows the craggy peaks of a mountain range, with white clouds drifting above them.

This is post 2 of 2 in "People of the Pacific."

In this series, we’re profiling the faces of conservation in the Pacific region, many of whom are partnering with us to create a connected Pacific landscape. Follow along to learn about Environment for the Americas, Cascade Forest Conservancy, and more. All posts in this series…

I had the pleasure of speaking with Susan Bonfield, founder and executive director at Environment for the Americas, and Blanca Lopez, outreach and education intern at ¡Team Naturaleza! in Wenatchee, Washington. Both women promote diversity in bird conservation through informal science education.

In separate interviews, Susan and Blanca shared their passion for the bird conservation field’s equitable and inclusive future, and how diverse representation and new approaches to science education can transform the field of bird conservation.

Susan Bonfield and Environment for the Americas

Environment for the Americas (EFTA)  is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to connect people to bird conservation and to combat the lack of ethnic diversity and representation in the field of bird conservation. EFTA was founded by Susan Bonfield in 2000 to host International Migratory Bird Day, now World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD).

Since its inception, EFTA has made conservation more inclusive for Latino communities through outreach across North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean through WMBD, which offers informal science education programs like nature walks, and family activities. EFTA also engages over 50 youth of color each year through its internship programs, connecting them to science, research, public lands, and more.

Environment for the Americas’ National Science Foundation-funded study, Engaging Latino Audiences in Informal Science Education, set out to identify the barriers to participating in science education and visiting national parks for Latino audiences. The research spanned a 4-year period at 6 study sites across the country.

The study found that adapting programs to meet the needs of Latinos can successfully increase Latino engagement, doubling and even tripling participation. EFTA’s study found that some of the methods to improve Latino participation include adapting program promotion to reach Latinos, providing information about events in English and Spanish, offering bilingual activities, and employing Latino staff and interns.

EFTA has created more diverse representation in the conservation movement, connecting Latino youth with conservation internships across the country and shaping the next generation of bird conservation professionals and stewards.

Rebecca Hunter: From 2009-2013, EFTA conducted an NSF-funded “Engaging Latino Audiences in Informal Science Education” study. What inspired you to do this research?

A blonde woman wearing a blue rain jacket stand before a large body of water.
Susan Bonfield, Director of Environment for the Americas

Susan Bonfield: Everything at our organization started because of International Migratory Bird Day. In 2007, we had some partners that were offering IMBD events, such as Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. We sent Spanish [outreach] materials to partners who requested them. The next year, they didn’t call for more materials, so I called them and asked why they didn’t ask for Spanish language materials. They said, “No one came last year, so we don’t want any more.”

Then we started working with our partners, and I ran into stereotypes about why Latinos weren’t participating in International Migratory Bird Day. We knew that when we hosted [IMBD] in Mexico or Venezuela, we got huge turnouts. Our partners gave us a variety of reasons why they thought Latino communities weren’t participating, such as: it is not a part of their culture, or they don’t have cars. These stereotypes didn’t resonate with us. So we went to the National Science Foundation and got a 4-year grant to study the barriers to Latino engagement in informal science education.

RH: What were the impacts of that study’s key findings?

SB: Our key findings resulted in the creation of our diversity-based internship program, “Celebrate Birds Program,” which we’ve continued now for 7 years. It has been hugely successful and a really inspiring program for me. Our interns work with federal and non-federal partners,including the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and L.A. Audubon, for example, studying migratory birds and providing education programs in Latino communities. The National Parks Service approached us and asked us to coordinate 2 new internships, the Latino Heritage Internship program and Mosaics in Science Internship. They use our model for working with interns.

RH: Why does Latino outreach matter for conservation? Why do you think ethnic diversity is important for conservation?

SB: I’m not saying it is just Latino outreach [that matters for conservation].  This has been our focus because we do a lot of our work in Latin America and have worked with this population. But we do see the need to reach out to diverse groups, including diverse genders and races. It matters for many reasons. It matters because equity and inclusion are critical to conservation. We need to have a place for everyone to take part preserving our natural resources. It matters because our work neds to be led by the people that represent our country.  We want our events to be that way too; I like knowing that our events are not homogeneous, but they reflect the general public we serve across the Western Hemisphere.

RH: What internships are available in the Pacific region, and what are some success stories?

SB: Yaquina Head in Oregon has hosted an intern for 7 years, and serves as a great training ground for interns. One intern who worked there is now an environmental consultant, and another is completing her masters degree on seabirds.

In California, Los Angeles Audubon is a long-term partner, and they have brought most of our interns who do bird surveys on as staff. We have interns at the National Wildlife Refuge at Sweetwater with the Fish and Wildlife Service in San Diego doing community outreach. In Alamosa, Colorado, interns have helped with migratory shorebird surveys and community outreach. Several of these interns are now in permanent positions with the Bureau of Land Management.

Some ares really took our [NSF study] research to heart. One of those places was Wenatchee, Washington, where we had one of our study sites in Leavenworth and Wenatchee. Since the research presented its key finding, organizations in the area created ¡Team Naturaleza!, a program designed to reach the growing Latino community.

Blanca Lopez and ¡Team Naturaleza!

Blanca Lopez is an education and outreach intern at EFTA’s partner organization ¡Team Naturaleza! in Wenatchee, Washington.

In 2012 ¡Team Naturaleza! was founded with a mission to engage Central Washington Latino communities in informal natural science education and outdoor recreation, encouraging Spanish-speaking members of the community to recreate outdoors on public lands and to enjoy learning about the science of nature. Environment for the Americas is the group’s fiscal sponsor, providing support, resources, and funds to the growing organization.

RH: How did you get involved with ¡Team Naturaleza!?

A young woman with long brown hair, wearing a blue shirt, holds a sign with different bird species on it, showing it to a few young children standing in front of her.
Blanca Lopez interacts with members of the community at a ¡Team Naturaleza! event. Photo: Blanca Lopez

Blanca Lopez: I didn’t think we had something like ¡Team Naturaleza! here in Wenatchee. When I first heard about it, I was so excited and so thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of that. I found out about [¡Team Naturaleza!] through a professor of mine at Wenatchee Valley College. I took an Intro to Sustainability class with her, and that class sparked something in me. I knew I wanted to do something in the field of conservation. A year after I took her class, she reached out to me and let me know there was an internship opportunity for an outreach and education specialist, and that she thought I’d be a great candidate. I’ve been a part of the team for 6 months.

RH: What is your favorite thing to do with ¡Team Naturaleza!?

BL: Going out to our events around the community and seeing people react to the information we have, because we are a free organization. When the people hear about our events, they hear about hiking or fishing day, they might not think that its free, but when we let them know it’s free, they light up. I think that’s my favorite part.

[I do] Lots of hiking and nature walks. For example, when we’re out doing a nature walk, we might be in a specific area that has a really cool feature to it, the plant species that surround us or the wildlife that inhabit that area.

I’ve worked at most of the elementary schools in Wenatchee, grades 3-5. We have afterschool programs that vary from week to week. We have a lot of active activities for kids, getting them up and moving. One of my favorites is the migratory bird game. The point of the game is to get all the way to the end of 6 stations to overcome all of the obstacles birds have to overcome when they migrate.

A large bird with white feathers on its head and neck, and brown feathers on its body, opens its beak as it faces the camera.
Bald eagle. Photo: William C. Gladish

RH: Can you tell me a bit more about the communities ¡Team Naturaleza! serves in the Pacific Northwest?

BL: A few of the towns that we provide services to include Leavenworth, Cashmere, Wenatchee, East Wenatchee, and Arrondo. We reach out to families. Our demographic is mostly Latino families because our founders did a survey where they realized that all of these towns that I mentioned were 70% first generation families, and they felt that they didn’t know a lot about the outdoors. The schools in this area are 20-80% Latino. Here in Wenatchee, we are 50% Latino. It’s important for us to be a part of and provide space for the bilingual outdoor community.

RH: What is the greatest challenge to Latino involvement in bird conservation?

BL: I think one of the biggest challenges in the past has been finding out why the Latino community might not be interested in conservation, and the hurdles we [at ¡Team Naturaleza!] have to get across. I think one hurdle is the lack of representation. It’s important to have someone in the Latino community to lead the way, so people can see why conservation is important to people like them. That’s been one of our accomplishments too, to collaborate with different leaders around the Latino community on conservation, which has helped us out a lot with Latino turnout. We definitely have grown with our contacts within the Latino communities. We collaborate with a few of the leaders of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and groups like Cafe, an organization that helps immigrant families get citizenship.

RH: What’s one initiative you’re working on now?

BL: One of our upcoming events is our free fishing day event. At this event, we will have different educators, people from the Fish and Wildlife Service that will be educating the public on fishing topics, such as why do we have these regulations on fishing? Which fish are endangered? This will help people learn about why we have the rules that we have, and also let them know that people who have these badges don’t have to be intimidating. If you get FWS officers to just talk about why we have these regulations, it will make people more comfortable around them and more comfortable being outdoors. We will also have an officer as well, so it’s just getting people accustomed to seeing these people being outdoors and in a less intimidating setting.

RH: How can a reader be an environmental steward in their daily lives? What can people do to contribute to healthier environments across the region?

BL: I think it starts with things as small as going outside and having that connection. I think if someone already wants to be a steward, they probably already have that connection. From there, take these small steps, like realizing where your trash goes, so you’re not polluting. When you are outside, make sure you Leave No Trace and take nothing with you. Very simple things you have to have in the back of your mind. Also, just keep learning about it. I got into it very quickly, and you learn so much when you’re trying to be better and do better for the environment. Find as many resources as you can and learn about the environment.

More posts from People of the Pacific

  1. People of the Pacific: Cascade Forest Conservancy, August 9, 2018
  2. People of the Pacific: Susan Bonfield and Blanca Lopez, August 13, 2018

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