Feature: California Amer-Asian Resource Education (CARE)

The Yosemite / Sequoia Resource Conservation & Development Council (Y/S RC&D) works with diverse partners to address local needs. It is especially excited about assisting a newly formed group that is reaching out to the Southeast Asian community. The group is called California Amer-Asian Resource Education (CARE). It is working to reduce negative impacts on natural resources and is encouraging communication about resource issues.

The Yosemite / Sequoia Resource Conservation & Development Council (Y/S RC&D) works with diverse partners to address local needs. It is especially excited about assisting a newly formed group that is reaching out to the Southeast Asian community. The group is called California Amer-Asian Resource Education (CARE). It is working to reduce negative impacts on natural resources and is encouraging communication about resource issues.

With the influx of these refugees, agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and California Department of Fish and Game, noted corresponding increases in escaped camp or cook-fires, increases in citations issued for resource related violations, and decreases in fish and wildlife populations in areas frequented by southeast Asian hunters and anglers. Agencies have actively attempted to share important resource conservation information with these communities, although language and cultural barriers, have severely limited the success of these outreach programs.

The CARE idea began about one year ago when two friends, Chong Yang and Kong Yang, decided to act on their concern for issues involving Southeast Asian immigrant communities and natural resources. Both avid fishermen and hunters, they were worried about increasing litter and diminishing resources in the natural areas they enjoyed. They were aware of conflicts involving Southeast Asians and natural resource regulations, and wanted to address their role in conservation issues. They approached Chu Yang , of the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service about starting a non-profit organization. Concurrently, the Y/S RC&D received an outreach grant from the California Association of RC&D's for translation of natural resource informational materials into Hmong. The Tulare County Resource Conservation District brought the partners together and CARE was born.

Chong says, "Issues involving Southeast Asian people and natural resources stem from their lack of awareness as immigrants in a new environment."

Southeast Asian countries have tropical ecosystems where wildlife reproduces more rapidly than they do here. Tropical areas are also more resistant to the spread of fire. In their native countries, the immigrants were closely connected to the natural environment, as hunting and fishing were important skills for survival. There were also no regulations about private lands or designated areas where they could camp, build a fire, hunt or fish. "A primary goal of CARE is to create an understanding of the importance of sustaining natural resources in the Southeast Asian community," Chong says.

CARE and its partner organizations began by sharing vital natural resource information with participants at hunter safety courses taught by Kong. These courses provide interactive question and answer sessions, with verbal translation of information into native languages. Information has been shared with over 1,800 people at the courses to date. The Y/S RC&D is assisting CARE with developing by-laws, a strategic plan, a Memorandum of Understanding with the growing network of partners, applying for non-profit status, seeking grants, and administering funds to implement projects.

CARE will establish a central resource center to provide information to Southeast Asians. They will offer translation services for land management agencies and other partners.

CARE is already hosting translated radio programs to assist partners with sharing conservation messages. They also plan to create a series of training videos in Southeast Asian languages.

CARE will connect youth and college students with conservation activities and internship opportunities with natural resource agencies. Chong observes that Hmong youth are often discouraged from considering natural resource fields as possible professions. CARE hopes to create bridges between resource agencies and the community. He believes that when Southeast Asians see the collaborative partnership, it will ease fear and tension that many refugees feel toward government.

CARE is celebrating many successes. Hunter Education classes taught by Kong are showing positive results. The Department of Fish and Game reports a decrease in hunting and fishing violations by Southeast Asian hunters and anglers since the initiation of these classes. The Forest Service also sees a decrease in the number of citations issued and the incidence of escaped campfires. CARE is working with the California Office of Environmental Health on their Fish Mercury Project. They are hosting focus groups to identify the types of fish that people catch and the locations where they fish, so that Southeast Asians can be informed about the health risks of exposure to mercury. CARE is also collecting fish to measure mercury contamination levels in popular fishing locations.

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