Creating Racially/Ethnically Inclusive Partnerships in Natural Resource Management and Outdoor Recreation: The Challenges, Issues, and Strategies


  • Richard O.B. Makopondo


Collaboration, partnerships, natural resource management, outdoor recreation, racial/ethnic minorities, inclusion, challenges and barriers, environmental justice


Collaborative approaches to natural resource management are being promoted as promising ways to deal with complex and contentious natural resource issues (Conley & Mootie, 2003). The National Park Service and the National Conservation and Park Association have recently adopted collaboration as a strategy for promoting racial and ethnic diversity in park planning, outdoor recreation, and environmental conservation education. However, many units within the National Park System have encountered major challenges in their efforts to attract minorities (National Parks Conservation Association, 2001). This study drew on Inter-organizational Collaboration Theory by Gray (1985), Wondolleck and Yaffee (2000), and Wood and Gray (1991) to investigate factors that impede efforts by the Boston Harbor Islands National Park Area Partnership to include racial and ethnic minorities in natural resource management, outdoor recreation activities, and programs. Qualitative research methods were used to collect the evidence. The study found that collaboration and partnerships are viable mechanisms for enhancing racial and ethnic diversity in natural resource management, environmental conservation education, and outdoor recreation. However, there are major challenges and constraints to creating racially and ethnically inclusive collaborations and partnerships. The results indicate that whether and how racial and ethnic minorities got involved with the Partnership, and its activities and programs were influenced by several factors including: (1) the process through which the Partnership was established; (2) problems related to the structure of the Partnership and Advisory Council; (3) gaps in the missions, goals, and values of the Partnership and minority-based organizations; (4) the approaches, challenges, and difficulties in the Partnership’s public involvement process; (5) the presence of sensitive leaders with the skills and commitment to racial and cultural diversity; and (6) the relevance of partnership activities and programs to the lives of racial and ethnic minorities. The study supports the contentions by Wondolleck and Yaffee (2000) and Gray and Wood (1991) that collaboration and partnerships are about relationships and that effective collaboration is able to create structures and processes through which relationships are developed among diverse partners. It also supports previous findings that people of color (racial and ethnic minorities) and low-income communities are more preoccupied with quality-of-life issues and think of the environment in terms of quality-of-life, social and environmental justice issues (Bullard & Johnson, 2000; Floyd & Johnson, 2002; Taylor, 2000a). Four major recommendations for creating racially and ethnically inclusive collaboration and partnerships are offered: (1) The key to designing racially and ethnically inclusive partnerships is to recognize minorities as legitimate stakeholders and to invite all relevant minority- based community organizations and community leaders to participate in initial partnership formation and problem definition dialogues right from the beginning. (2) To succeed in creating inclusive collaboration and partnerships, National Parks and public land management agencies must interpret their missions and goals more broadly (Machlis & Field, 2000) and extend themselves outside their traditional boundaries and get involved with issues of interest to the local communities, including communities where racial and ethnic minorities reside. (3) National Parks and public land management agencies in general must recognize that, in order to attract and maintain the support of racial and ethnic minorities, they have to both make their activities and programs relevant and demonstrate their relevance to the lives of racial and ethnic minorities. (4) Creating and maintaining effective collaboration and partnerships with racial and ethnic minorities requires establishing genuine personal relationships between key representatives of partner agencies and organizations.