The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many of us to cancel cherished summer vacations and group activities we relish during every normal year. For months on end we’ve stayed home, cooped up indoors more than we ever imagined or wanted. Each July, Latino Conservation Week should be a reminder to everyone in New Mexico to get outdoors and experience the stunning scenery, nature and unique heritage of cultures that is our Land of Enchantment. For the sake of our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health, the outdoors are more important now than ever.
Since its beginnings in 2014, Latino Conservation Week – an initiative of the Hispanic Access Foundation and now celebrated July 18-26 – has supported the Hispanic and Latinx communities in getting outdoors and participating in activities that protect our natural resources. Hundreds of programs and special events go on nationwide and here in New Mexico, celebrating the deep connection and contributions of the Latinx community to conservation of our public lands. It also gives younger generations new opportunities to engage and learn, and helps encourage the tradition of conservation that is part and parcel of Hispanic culture.
We are lucky to have groups in New Mexico working to elevate Hispanic voices, along with those of indigenous people and all people of color who have not always been equally represented in the past, in the enjoyment and management of our public lands. Groups like Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project, New Mexico Wild, Friends of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and New Mexico Wildlife Federation are just a few of the organizations working alongside the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. Together we seek to ensure a healthy future for our public lands, the communities that depend on them and the generations that will inherit them from us.
Collectively our work has led to really significant recent victories. Just last week, Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a historic investment in outdoor spaces, including those in New Mexico.
At the state level the governor, supported by groups like the Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project and others, established an Office of Outdoor Recreation to promote the health and wellness of residents through greater access to outdoor recreation and also protection, appreciation and good management of our public lands. When communities are fully engaged in decisions around lands, it means a stronger and healthier future for New Mexico’s people, our unparalleled public lands – places like Chaco Culture and White Sands National Parks, and Rio Grande del Norte, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks and Gila Cliff Dwellings national monuments – and the local economies that depend on them.
We continue our work to see unmatched places like the Gila River near Silver City get federal protection as a Wild and Scenic River. The Greater Gila Wild and Scenic River Act, sponsored and championed by New Mexico’s Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, recently passed in the U.S. Senate. Our representatives in Congress, Deb Haaland, Xochitl Torres Small and Ben Ray Luján, will urge colleagues to join them in voting the legislation into law so that the Gila will continue to flow freely and benefit New Mexicans and visitors for generations to come.
Latino Conservation Week was a good time to focus on the importance year-round of guaranteeing that irreplaceable public lands and cultural sites are protected, engaging more people from underrepresented communities in outdoor recreation and public lands management and getting outside ourselves to enjoy our state and national parks safely and responsibly. We thank everyone for joining in to celebrate and for the ongoing work that organizations and volunteers are doing on all our behalf. For more information, visit: latinoconservationweek.com or nuestra-tierra.org.
Angel Peña is a first-generation American and archaeologist who lives in Las Cruces with his wife and two daughters. Howie Morales was raised and lives in Silver City.