By Darryl Fears, Published: March 24
Fred Tutman was a lonely man when he picked up the telephone that day.
He was the tough-talking protector of Maryland’s Patuxent River, a courtroom brawler who took on anyone who contaminated water, but he couldn’t shake a nagging hurt that he was nearly invisible within his own profession.
He called Marc Yaggi, director of the Waterkeeper Alliance in New York, last May. “Am I the only African American riverkeeper?”
The answer was yes. Of at least 200 riverkeepers in the world, Tutman is the only African American.
“We have a lot of work to do” in the area of diversity, Yaggi said in a recent interview. He said he has reached out to Tutman, who was certified by the alliance in 2004, “to try to figure out ways to increase our diversity.”
But Tutman is not unique in his feelings of isolation. Minorities in the nation’s largest environmental organizations said in interviews that they feel the same way.
In fact, they say, the level of diversity, both in leadership and staff, of groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Sierra Club and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is more like that of the Republican Party they so often criticize for its positions on the environment than that of the multiethnic Democratic Party they have thrown their support behind.
Some of the groups say they are working toward greater diversity. “I think that the concerns are absolutely well founded,” said Adrianna Quintero, a lawyer for the NRDC. “It’s taken too long for environmental groups to work closely enough with minority communities.”
Kim Coble, vice president of environmental protection and restoration for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the organization strives for inclusion, even though the percentage of minorities on its full-time staff is only 4.5 percent in a region where they represent nearly half the population.