What’s love got to do with it?

What’s love got to do with it?

Conservation Northwest / Feb 14, 2020 / Justice Equity Diversity Inclusion

Perspectives on how love can diversify and strengthen the conservation movement.


There’s a lot to celebrate on this day of love—the beautiful region we’re lucky to live in, our charismatic native species, and of course, those we hold close to our hearts. But on this Valentine’s Day, I want to reflect on an experience that made me recognize the strong need for love in how we do our conservation work.

Despite the downpour, attendees at the Refuge Outdoor Festival had a great time enjoying live music. Photo: Keiko Betcher

Last September, I attended Refuge Outdoor Festival, a three-day camping experience about representation in the outdoors geared toward People of Color (POC). I obtained what many people seek in nature—introspection, lungs filled with clean air, a deep appreciation for the earth, and respite from the stresses of life.

I also attended workshops around self care, like guided mediation, and our relationship to the land. I was honored to help bless the ground and dance with the 7 Generation Intertribal Family. I huddled with other festival-goers as we watched live music and tried to keep ourselves dry from the downpour. I was completely surrounded by people. It was a new way of experiencing the “great outdoors”. And it did feel great.

My strongest takeaway from the festival was unexpected: love, and, as Stephanie Anne Johnson said during her music performance that first night, how “the current world we live in needs a whole lot of it.”

In this day of political turmoil, dangerous polarization, injustice toward underserved communities, a seemingly unstoppable climate emergency, and a massive loss of biodiversity, we can’t forget to take the time to practice love as we keep moving forward. Love for the land and water, love for the animals and plants, love for ourselves, and, perhaps what we need most right now—love for each other.

Will this mama bear and her cub inspire you to spread some love today? Photo: CWMP

As we know, love is no simple thing—it can be challenging, requiring difficult communication, an open mind, and sometimes, deep-rooted change. It’s no coincidence that these challenges are also essential to addressing the lack of diversity in the conservation community. To effectively make our movement more just, equitable, diverse and inclusive, as we’re working toward at Conservation Northwest, we’ll need to open up our hearts with one another.

This Valentine’s Day, I encourage you to take some of the love we have for wild, rugged mountains, moss-covered old-growth, and remarkable wildlife, and share it with those who aren’t offered the privilege of enjoying those things to begin with.

When we direct some of our passion toward those who’ve been historically left out of or harmed by the conservation movement, we’ll begin to see the full potential and power we can have to create the changes we’re working toward.

Suggestions for “practicing” love

Note that privilege based on race is important to recognize, but it is not the only type of privilege. Other examples include being able-bodied, or living without the strain wildlife recovery or land preservation can sometimes put on rural communities.

  • Respect peoples’ lived experiences and don’t try to refute them.
  • When you attend an event centered on a community other than yours, don’t “take up space”—be there to listen and give others the room to speak.
  • See people as human before you see them for their opinions, no matter how opposing they might be.
  • Recognize your privilege, and if you’ve got some extra, lend it to someone who lacks it.
  • It’s crucial that you can love yourself before you can share love with others. We can all feel despair over the state of our earth sometimes. Make sure you’re giving yourself time and space to take care of yourself.

Being a better ally

Attendees gather around for the first-ever Refuge Outdoor Festival in 2018. Photo: Heather Hutchison