By Rod Torrez
"The way we deal with challenges is to work collectively."
- Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, December 12, 2013
Last week , Secretary Jewell spoke to the Western Governors Association about creating a holistic approach to managing our public lands through cooperation, landscape level planning, mitigation and approaching development in new ways.She also said in her official statement that day:
“Our goal is to have a strategy in place that provides consistency and efficiency as we review and permit new energy and other infrastructure development activities, at the same time ensuring that we are effectively conserving our nation’s valuable natural and cultural resources.”
These words echoed what she said at the National Press Club on the last day of October where she also issued an order establishing a strategy for balanced energy development and mitigation. That day, she also mentioned the need to use master leasing plans, an innovative new tool that would consider not only the value of the resources extracted, but the other values such as air and water quality, outdoor recreation, wildlife habitat, and cultural heritage sites.
But what does this really mean to Latinos? I believe it means that our work is only beginning. It is clear to me and to that Latinos care about the land, our home towns (some of them centuries old), our health, and our enjoyment of all those things. But it is also clear to me that agencies are only just beginning to understand how important our voices are, or can be in conserving these treasured lands and the life and livelihoods they support.
Just last month a report from Hispanic Link News Service indicated that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is only now recognizing the need to reach out to Hispanics. However, the article cites a nationwide survey indicating that only 7 percent of those who participate in outdoor recreation are Hispanic, and that only 4 percent of Hispanics engage in conservation. This is a sign that the Interior Department must continue to work to get Latinos more involved with public lands.
However, these findings don’t take into consideration the long, rich tradition and experience of the Latinos that have lived in the West for generations.
In her speech, Secretary Jewell mentioned “iconic places” such as national parks. Western Latinos think about, and value, those places too. However, we also think about the little creeksides where the curanderas collect osha roots; we also think about the small aspen groves where the dendroglyphs can still by found, carved by sheepherders long ago. I personally think about an ancient alligator juniper in Arizona, worn smooth on one side by the strong back of my grandfather, who sat there, waiting for the deer to come.
The values that western Latinos have passed from generation to generation have lessons that can help inform the Interior Department about decisions on how public lands should be managed.
To that end, Secretary Jewell’s words are promising, although the outcome remains to be seen. She offers a cooperative approach to land management that could provide Latinos the opportunity to identify and protect the places we treasure most.
We are the voices for those places, and our work to be heard and recognized has just begun.
Rod Torrez is the Director of HECHO, Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and Outdoors.
This article originally appeared in HECHO.