Understanding a Changing America: A Key to Successful Conservation
Understanding a Changing America: A Key to Successful Conservation
Interview with Steve Murdock
By Natalie Sexton
Sexton: Welcome to another podcast in our series Conservation in HD. Today our podcast is Understanding a Changing America: A Key to Successful Conservation. This podcast series is part of a collaboration with the NCTC Conservation Land Management Branch and Human Dimensions Branch in Refuges. I’m Natalie Sexton and today I have the pleasure of having Dr. Steve Murdock with me. Hi Steve!
Murdock: Hi Natalie.
Sexton: How are you doing?
Murdock: It’s nice to be here.
Sexton: Steve’s a Sociology Professor at Rice University and former Director of the U.S. Census Bureau. He’s originally from the great state of North Dakota, home of the tator tot hot dish, right, Steve?
Murdock: The hot dish, yes.
Sexton: We really want to talk about why we really need to understand a changing America and how really that relates to the conservation work we’re trying to do so why would you say we do need to understand our audiences and some of these changes that are taking place?
Murdock: I think the major reason is we’re undergoing some very substantial changes in the base population in the United States and you see it in a number of different ways. For example, in the last decennial period from 2000 to 2010, only eight percent of our net growth in our population in the United States was due to non-Hispanic white populations. That meant that 92 percent of all the growth in the U.S. population and going forward it looks the same, by the way, was due to
minority populations with the largest percentage, almost 56 percent being due to Hispanics. Particularly evident when you looked at children in the less than 18 category, less than 18 years of age, we actually had a net decline of 4.3 million non-Hispanic white children offset by an increase of 4.8 million Hispanic children. In fact, had it not been for the growth in the number of Hispanic children, we would have had one of the largest declines in the child population in the U.S. history. So these are trends that are very dramatic. When you look at them they’re Northeast. They’re Midwest. They’re South. They’re West. They’re across the United States and all projections going forward for a variety of reasons show that we expect that to continue. In fact, if you look at the data it’s nearly impossible now for the non-Hispanic white population to have any significant growth going forward and the U.S. Census Bureau projections and others project the non-Hispanic white population to decrease in absolute terms in the coming years.
Sexton : Wow! Those statistics look quite a bit different than what we see in our visitation to refuges, huh?
Murdock: When you begin to look at those data, one particular item that I remember, I think that about 96 percent of your visitors in the most recent survey were non-Hispanic white, but that’s very different than the country in 2000. In 2010 there were about 63 percent. In going forward when we begin to look at our growth in the future we expect by 2060, for example, that less than half our population will be non-Hispanic whites. So you’re seeing a very rapidly changing population base which means a rapidly changing I think set of users for visitors for your entities.
Sexton: Yes. Well, you’re here this week for Urban Wildlife Refuge Academy and as you may be aware our urban wildlife refuge initiative was borne out of some visioning that refuges is doing to try to be more relevant not only in our conservation work and thinking at a more landscape scale and being able to be more efficient and successful, but also trying to be more relevant with this changing American public, some of those statistics that you laid out, and trying to do a better job, but particularly in our urban areas where we have refuges or where we don’t and we want to have more of an influence and certainly one of the foundational pieces of that is understanding those audiences that are in close proximity to our refuges and where we’re working and as you’ve touched on to be relevant we have to be thinking about these things. I’ve heard you equate relevancy to the business world and how do you think some of these statistics relate to our ensuring relevance in the future?
Murdock: Well, I think when you look at governmental planning sometimes and having been in that sector several times in my life, I think we forget that we are marketing a product just like Coca Cola markets a product and those kind of companies do a great deal of market research but in more than just the research they recognize the diversity of America and many of these international companies, Wal-mart would be another, they have people that specialize in a particular
racial and ethnic groups and they’re very aware. I find them more aware than I find my colleagues. I find them more aware than I find state or most federal government agencies aware of the diversity of groups out there and the diversity of approaches that are necessary in order to get people to buy their product and although you’re not selling a product, use of your product which is important for your future is something that also I think needs to recognize the diversity within the diversity.For example, one thing that you see is that when we talk about Hispanics we often fail to differentiate between different origins of Hispanics so that to equate Puerto Ricans with Mexican Americans with Cubans etcetera often amalgamates views and perspectives that are not necessarily the same.
Sexton: Yes. That’s a good point. There’s a lot of nuances there. What are some other trends that you think are good for conservation practitioners to understand in order to effectively engage with these changing audiences?
Murdock: I think another factor that is there and it’s really interrelated and integrated into some of these other issues we were talking about is to recognize that with these demographic differences there are due to a variety of historical, discriminatory and other factors sets of social economics characteristics that will affect the income base, the socio-economic resources of users of a variety of facilities including things in the public sector as well as the private sector. We know, for example, the poverty rates, for example, for African Americans and Hispanics are two to three times depending on the area you’re looking at the poverty rates for non-Hispanic whites. We know their income levels tend to be 60 to 65 percent of what the incomes are for non-Hispanic whites so when you begin to look at resource bases and the kind of choices families with reduced resources have to make I think it’s important to understand that you have to have a product that is made available not only to those who used to be able to afford that product but who now have the resources they have to access your product. So I think behind this because in many ways we don’t, from purely a marketing standpoint, we don’t care what people’s racial and ethnic characteristics are, the reality of it is what’s important about that is that their socio economic resources, their levels of education, those sorts of things are impacting what resources they use and can use.
Sexton: Yes. And sometimes it’s not just about entrance fees for public lands. I think refuges have some of the most affordable public lands, most of them being free, but I know that there’s other barriers; transportation, and just having the right skill set to feel comfortable engaging in some of those activities.
Murdock: Well, if you look at surveys, for example, done in urban areas of certainly those with the most minimal resource bases, many of them, for example, do not own their own vehicles.
Murdock: And accessing many of our refuges and other areas would be very difficult if you had no access to your own vehicle so it becomes very difficult under those circumstances so that I think understanding not only the differences that may be there due to a different cultural background but different socio economic backgrounds because many of the services we have without meaning to actually involve, assume if I should say, a kind of middle class or upper middle class set of perspectives, a set of resources and as you get population bases with very different resource bases, very different perspectives, it’s critical to start to understand and to I think take appropriate actions to make sure that your resources are accessible to as wide an audience of Americans as possible.
Sexton: Yes. We certainly found that in the National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Survey that the median income was seventy-five to $99,000 which was well above the median for the U.S. so certainly traditionally our visitors to refuges have been not only more, you know, higher income but higher education levels.
Murdock: For example, you take that seventy-five, that would have been about $30,000 higher than the median incomes for, in many areas, for African Americans and Hispanics.
Murdock: So you’re talking about a very substantial difference in the capabilities of someone in those two economic circumstances.
Sexton: So I know perhaps folks who are listening are maybe surprised by some of these statistics or perhaps well aware, but wondering what can they do. What are some strategies that they can implement to try to address some of these issues? What would you say to that?
Murdock: Well, I think that one of the things that we have to recognize is as we reach out to new audiences it may take measures that have not been necessary in the past. So, for example, we generally assume in most kinds of facilities I think, such as you’re talking about, that people would get there on their own, they would have the resources to travel to the site, that may not be possible. If you really want to get greater access by people in many of the central cities of America, you may have to provide the transportation from a particular location to that area. You’re probably going to have to do some educational things to help parents understand why this is important. They have lots of things going on in their lives. They’re probably very busy trying to make a living and their children have lots of different possibilities. You’re going to have to help educate their parents to the importance of this and then I think to take measures such as those of transportation to ensure that they really can access it.
Sexton: And partnerships as well; partnering with other entities that can help to reach some of those groups that we maybe don’t have the experience in connecting with.
Murdock: And I think often, in many cases I think, one should explore as well the possibility of partnering with the private sector.
Murdock: Because I think the private sector in many cases, organizations for example, that are in recreation may have a lot of reason to help you in terms of creating greater appreciation of the outdoors of preserving various kinds of areas and various kinds of species and I think that good public private partnerships can work for everybody.
Sexton: I’d encourage our listeners to look at the standards of excellence that have recently been developed for our urban refuges as part of our initiative and those can be found at americaswildlife.org and I think there are several of those that really have a broader application to not just urban refuges but to other refuges in trying to more effectively connect with the changing America. So let’s talk a little bit about some tools that are out there to help practitioners that can help understand audiences.
Murdock: Well, I think one of the things, I would say this having been the Director of the Census Bureau, is that the Census has a huge amount of data online. We have a very good tool for accessing it. It’s called America Fact Finder. If you have access to the internet and a computer with pretty good storage you can access it. They also have regional offices. In some of those regional offices they have training specialists who will come out to facilities. They won’t come out necessarily for a single person but if you had groups of people that wanted to get trained on how to use American Fact Finder, want an overview of their databases, that’s exactly what they’re there for, and with a little bit of pre-planning they can help provide those data and again I would suggest that you in many cases could partner with people in the private sector who could help fund some of that perhaps and certainly would be interested in accessing some of the same audiences.
Sexton: Yes, and then specific to recreation we’ve got two kind of key resources. One is a survey of the U.S. , The National Hunting Fishing and Wildlife Related Survey and then we also have the National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Survey which is specific to visitors of refuges and there’s a lot of good information in both of those surveys and then probably a lot of our listeners by now have become aware of our Human Dimensions Broadcast Series which is a live broadcast that’s about an hour long on various social science topics and that’s available at distancelearning.fws.gov and we did two last year, one called Embracing the Cultural Diversity of Visitors and Stakeholders and one called Engaging With Community, Urban Communities, so I would suggest both of those. What about partnering with universities and looking to the literature? Any suggestions there?
Murdock: Well, certainly. There are some very fine programs as you know in the Human Dimensions of Wildlife and Human Dimensions of Use of Public Facilities and Public Lands and those programs are scattered across the country now, researchers _____ I have several at a conference that I’m attending now who can really provide very good insight and so I’d encourage people to reach out ______ particular evident in the land grant university across the country which had a connection to all of the programs that you’re involved in and they generally have researchers who are in many cases looking for research on key areas and looking to partner with a federal agency and sometimes they can bring with them connections to private sector groups that also have resources so I certainly would look to the land grant universities for researchers in those areas.
Sexton: So Steve, in closing, with all of your years of experience and research and expertise, what happens if we ignore all of this?
Murdock: Well, I think the thing that Americans have to realize and this is not a statement of some kind of philosophy. It’s a statement of fact is that the reality of it is the future of the United States is tied to its minority populations and how well they do is how well America is going to do. That’s true socioeconomically and it’s true in regard to all the agencies and entities that depend on the Federal government and that serve the people of the United States. It’s important to understand that I believe their success will also be dependent on their ability to access the fastest growing population segments of the U.S. population so their future as well I think is tied to minority populations in the United States.
Sexton: I really appreciate your time today Steve. I’m wondering if other questions come up could folks contact you?
Murdock: I’d be glad to have them contact me. My email is SHM for my initials for Steve Harold Murdock and just the number 3 at rice.edu so it’s firstname.lastname@example.org
Sexton: Okay. Thanks Steve. And you can always contact me as well . I’m at Natalie_sexton@fws.gov and I also have an email just for the Branch of Human Dimensions. It’s email@example.com so either of those emails . Well, that wraps up this podcast. Please look for future ones in this podcast series: Conservation in HD and we’ll talk to you next time.
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