By Shannon Dortch

J. Drew Lanham, ornithologist and professor of wildlife ecology at Clemson University, will come to Cornell to give a talk about his nationally recognized work to engage more people of color in conservation.

Lanham is giving the Elizabeth E. Rowley Lecture, part of the Cornell Botanic Gardens’ Fall Lecture Series, Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. in Statler Auditorium. It is free and open to the public. 

Lanham’s talk, “Coloring the Conservation Conversation,” will touch on the reasons why African Americans are largely absent from conservation initiatives and interaction with the natural world – including bird-watching. He will share his passion for the wild and his commitment to putting conservation into practice in ways that include and embrace all communities.

For Lanham, birding is more than what one can see through binoculars. It’s an immersive understanding of all that’s around the bird and birder – the history, the people and the land. In addition to his scientific pursuits as an ornithologist, Lanham focuses on inspiring diverse audiences to protect birds, water, air, trees and all natural things.

More than 45 million people watch birds around their homes and away from home, according to the 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation produced by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Of those bird-watchers, an estimated 90% are white.

All people benefit from time in nature, said Catherine Thrasher-Carroll, mental health promotion program director at the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives at Cornell Health. Thrasher-Carroll has been a leader in the development and implementation of mental health promotion and suicide prevention strategies at Cornell, including the promotion of NatureRx, which educates on the health-enhancing benefits of time outdoors.

“It’s great to have J. Drew Lanham on campus to speak about his love affair with nature and of the joys, challenges and barriers for many people of color when it comes to appreciating and engaging with the natural environment,” Thrasher-Carroll said.

Lanham’s passion for birds and the natural world developed during his childhood, spent on a small family farm in South Carolina. He holds an endowed chair at Clemson as an Alumni Distinguished Professor, and was named an Alumni Master Teacher in 2012. His research focuses on songbird ecology, as well as the African American role in natural-resources conservation. 

Lanham is active on a number of conservation boards, including the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, Audubon South Carolina and the American Birding Association. He is a member of the advisory board for the North American Association of Environmental Education.

Lanham received his Ph.D. in forest resources from Clemson.