By Karen Leggett

“Find the leaders in the community, and get them behind you,” says Birgie Miller, offering her number-one piece of advice for national wildlife refuges and Friends groups seeking to improve outreach to Spanish-speaking communities. Miller is executive director of the Ding Darling Wildlife Society, the Friends organization for J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

Latinos are projected to be 25 percent of the U.S. population by 2050, and young people are the largest, fastest-growing segment of the Latino population. Last October, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signed a partnership agreement with the oldest and largest Latino advocacy organization, the League of United Latin American Citizens. The partnership is intended to provide new opportunities for young people to experience nature and consider careers in conservation, engage families in outdoor recreation and build awareness of how wildlife conservation and health issues are connected.

Some refuges have been reaching out.

To get to know leaders in the Hispanic community near “Ding” Darling Refuge, Miller joined the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and attended networking events. The Wildlife Society’s associate director Sarah Lathrop built a relationship with a local Latino radio station and then negotiated an advertising campaign for the refuge’s annual “Ding” Darling Days. Radio staff helped write the ads and played one free ad for every paid ad. The station, 97.7 Latino Radio, brought its van and played music. The outreach doubled the number of Spanish-speaking visitors to the refuge for those days.

The Wildlife Society has also had success with a high school nature photo contest, working with teachers to encourage students to compete. Entries can be taken outdoors anywhere in Florida, but the award ceremony and photo display are at the refuge visitor center.

At Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, the local Univision television affiliate interviewed a Spanish-speaking refuge volunteer and helped design a 30-second public service announcement for the refuge’s annual bird festival.

“We are crossing the language barriers with universally appealing PSAs that feature more pictures and music than talking,” says visitor services manager Kim Strassburg.

Tualatin River Refuge also publishes a Spanish web page (http://www.fws.gov/refuge/tualatin_river/un_refugio_para_todos.html) and includes bilingual bird guides and activities in Discovery Packs lent to visitors and after-school programs.

San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex is reaching Spanish-speaking families through their daughters. Sixty Girl Scouts from San Ysidro, CA, were the stars of a special event attended by Mexican and American conservation leaders, performing as a color guard and showing the adults how to plant milkweed. “It was an insanely cool event,” says Lisa Cox, the refuge’s public information officer. “If you hand them a shovel and some plants and help them create a habitat, they have a connection and feel like it’s their land.” Mexican-born Irene Barajas — the leader of the 60 Girl Scouts — later spoke at a Watershed Summit organized by refuge manager Andy Yuen.

At Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Patrick Bryant worked with the Bloomington, MN, school district’s cultural liaison for each major ethnic group as well as a diversity leadership group for older students. Bryant and Spanish-speaking intern Analuna Brambila invited the Latino Parent Association to hold its monthly meetings at the refuge, offered themed Nature Novice activities at after-school programs and created a hands-on monarch butterfly event at the neighborhood library.

“It was heartwarming to watch as, even indoors, children felt a profound connection to wild animals and their habitats,” says Brambila.

Karen Leggett is a writer-editor in the Refuge System Branch of Communications.