02-19-2017  8:52 am      •     

Greg Wolley (left) leading a snowshoeing trip


When it comes to the outdoors, Greg Wolley has been everywhere you can imagine, defying many stereotypes about African-Americans and wildlife.

"They say Black people don't bike, hike, etc.," he says. "Students of color are not seeing images of people in natural resources that look like them -- they don't have role models."

On May 21,  Wolley became the first African-American to serve on the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission (ODFW).

Besides increasing the participation of people of color, Wolley wants to focus on policies around hunting and fishing. He says he wants to clarify how many and what types of animals can be hunted and ensure that the fish populations are strong and healthy.

In addition to these agendas, he also wants to look at the impact large mammals like wolves, bears and cougars have on people's lifestyles. Lastly, Wolley wants to balance populations of prey and predators.

His appointment adds another honor to his long list of services in the area of environmental education.  Throughout his career, Wolley has worked to engage the Black community in outdoor activities and the natural world.

"People of color are so underrepresented in natural resources," he says. "It has changed slowly."

Wolley's fascination with nature began as a child in California.

"I was always looking under rocks and bringing critters home," he says.

This led to extensive reading about nature and, eventually, enrollment at the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied wildlife and took a number of ecology courses.

Afterwards, Wolley taught environmental education to kids in urban areas of Southern California such as Watts and East Los Angeles.

As a part of a small nonprofit called Outward Bound Adventures, Wolley exposed senior and middle high school students to the outdoors through activities like backpacking in the Mojave Desert.

He also worked on outdoor projects as part of the California Conservation Corp.

After spending years in urban California, Wolley's travels took him to Ashland, Ore., where he continued his education at Southern Oregon University. There, he earned a Masters of Science in Environmental Education.

Now it's 32 years later, and Wolley has been working in Portland ever since.

At first he taught at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). As a way to reach out to kids in inner Northeast Portland, he worked with a program called Alberta Science for Kids (ASK).

"At the time, OMSI was located by the World Forestry Center," says Wolley. "It was criticized for being out of reach of youth from Northeast Portland."

He later spent 7 ½ yrs. working for the US Forest Service, a federal agency that manages public lands in National Forests and Grasslands. His youth outreach continued with the Forest Service through teaching forest ecology and forest management at Portland Public Schools, including Grant, Madison and Roosevelt High Schools, and Beaumont Middle School.

During this time he was also trained to become an In-Service Trainer for the Peace Corps, and had the opportunity to teach environmental education in Africa to Peace Corps volunteers in Swaziland and to education administrators from Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Keeping busy, Wolley followed the Forest Service with a position as a regional planner with Metro Regional Parks and Greenspaces, where he managed open space properties throughout the three-county Portland Metro Area.  Following Metro, he became part of the community relations group for Tri-Met's Interstate MAX project. At TriMet he coordinated communication between the surrounding community, local businesses, and the construction team.  At this time Wolley was also trained by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to teach a comprehensive environmental justice training course.

Wolley's career then brought him to the City of Portland, where he served on the River Renaissance Committee that developed Willamette River planning guidelines for Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. He also coordinates business development for minority, women and emerging small businesses.

Throughout his career, Wolley says people of color in authoritative positions have been rare.

To address this problem while focusing on health, Wolley founded the African American Outdoor Association (AAOA) in 2005.  The mission of AAOA is "To address the health disparity issues in African American communities by engaging participants in vigorous physical activity that brings them into the natural environment".  Some of these activities include hiking, biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.  AOAO exposes both adults and kids to the natural world, and helps them to expand their physical boundaries, says Wolley.

The group's mission is to address the health disparity by engaging in vigorous physical activity. Some of these activities include hiking, biking, snowshoeing and cross country skiing.

AAOA provides exposure to both adults and kids and helps expand their physical boundaries, says Wolley.

ODFW wants to reach out as well, which factored into his appointment.

Gov. John Kitzhaber made a commitment to diversify state boards and commissions in various areas, including age, race and sexual orientation, according to Wolley.

There was some initial controversy in his appointment because the forestry, ranching and agriculture communities didn't know him, despite his extensive outdoors work.

However, Kitzhaber eventually shoved Wolley and two other candidates' appointments forward.

He emphasizes that he is available for any questions.

"I encourage people to go on the website and learn more about what the department does," says Wolley. "Feel free to contact me if you want to get more involved in the outdoors or learn more about the environment."

To learn more about the work of the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, go to www.dfw.state.or.us.  For information about AAOA, see www.africanamericanoutdoors.com, send  email to urbanhikers@hotmail.com , or sign in on Facebook.

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