On the eve of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, in one of his last official acts, President Barack Obama directed the Department of the Interior and other top agencies to hire a more diverse workforce, and attract broader segments of the US population to federal public lands.
Obama issued the edict in the form of a Presidential Memorandum, which is as binding as an Executive Order, according to legal specialists. The memo aims for greater diversity in Acadia and other national parks, national forests and other public lands and waters.
“That’s a big deal,” said Audrey Peterman, a member of the Next 100 Coalition of environmental and civil rights groups that petitioned Obama in 2016, the year of the National Park Service Centennial, to call for a more inclusive vision of stewardship of America’s public lands for the next 100 years. “We’re not going to be turned back.”
The memo by Obama, the first sitting president to visit Acadia, also comes after years of reports showing the National Park Service lagging in efforts to diversify its workforce, and less interest among some minority populations in visiting federal public lands, compared with white Americans or even foreign visitors.
A 2011 report, “The National Park Service Comprehensive Survey of the American Public,” found African Americans the most “under-represented” visitor group, with Hispanic Americans not too far behind. The “2016 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government®”, released last month, ranks the National Park Service 284 out of 304 agencies when it comes to support for diversity, a slight improvement over the previous annual survey sponsored by the non-profit, non-partisan Partnership for Public Service.
For Peterman, an American of African and Jamaican descent, her life’s work of pushing for diversity in Acadia and other public lands came to her on the top of Cadillac Mountain, on her first visit more than 20 years ago.