African-Americans have made immeasurable contributions to conservation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to take a moment to reflect upon the significance of these contributions, both past and present.
Through the vision of these leaders, the conservation community confronted the challenges of yesterday and today with clarity and courage. Leveraging their strength, we’ve built a solid foundation to support our work in the face of an uncertain future.
Born into slavery in 1840s, Holt Collier fled plantation life at 14 to become a legendary hunter and tracker. Collier’s skills were so well renowned he was asked to join Teddy Roosevelt for one of his most famous hunts. Collier’s legacy lives today in the 1,400-acre National Wildlife Refuge in Darlove, Mississippi that bears his name.
Col. Charles Young was one of the first African American graduates of US Military Academy at West Point, and the first ever African-American superintendent of a national park. Colonel Young worked tirelessly to clear miles and miles of wagon roads to keep Sequoia National park accessible to the public. Those same roads—while very different today—helped millions visit Sequoia over the last century, solidifying its place as an iconic destination in the American natural landscape.
Keenan Adams found his love for nature in an urban setting very different than the historic Florida wildlife refuges he manages today. Inspired by his heritage and family history, the Deputy Manager of Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex focused his doctoral research at Clemson University on the land ethic of African American forest landowners. Recently, Dr. Adams’ diverse life experiences and subject matter expertise helped the Service work more closely with local community members during the establishment of the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area.
There are many others, of course: African-Americans like Shannon Smith, Maury Bedford, Robin Nims Elliott, Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, and Jerome Ford, who currently play essential leadership roles in the Service. Rising to meet the conservation challenges of tomorrow will require all of us to summon the same courage of vision and strength that was summoned by our past leaders. As we confront concerns over the rapid urbanization of the American natural landscape; adapt to the consequences of a changing climate; and attempt to mitigate the impact of habitat loss on wildlife, the Service is fortunate to have these individuals who long ago made the decision to devote their careers to the cause of conservation. Their expertise and diverse perspectives are reservoirs of strength from which the Service can continually draw today and tomorrow.