Our country is facing multiple crises. Yet too often, we fail to take on our challenges holistically, and so they continue down separate tracks. Fortunately, two crises impacting New Mexico are converging, with local communities working with state and federal leaders to offer real solutions.
The first is the nature crisis. Recently, more than 400 of the world’s leading scientists began sounding the alarm that one million animal and plant species could die off within decades – by far the fastest decline in human history. Rising temperatures, extreme weather events and prolonged drought continue to threaten our land, air, water and wildlife, and with it, the very culture we hold dear. Right now, it’s estimated the U.S. loses a football field’s worth of nature every 30 seconds.
The second crisis is the scourge of systemic racism. Americans and New Mexicans are finally seeing how inequality touches nearly every aspect of life. For many communities of color, this includes things as simple as the ability to access and enjoy nature.
I was disappointed, though not surprised, to read a recent report by the Hispanic Access Foundation highlighting how communities of color lack access to outdoor spaces. It found that, nationally, 74% of communities of color live in “nature-deprived areas” compared with just 23% of white communities. This is unacceptable. Access to public land and nature should be a right for all people; it is essential to our quality of life and economic well-being. And yet too often, many non-white communities are experiencing the loss of natural areas at a disproportionate rate, especially communities near large-scale energy extraction.
Fortunately, policies to close the nature gap and solve the nature crisis are being born right here in the Land of Enchantment.
At the state level, thanks to the hard work of Reps. Angelica Rubio, D-Las Cruces, and Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, New Mexico became the first state to create an Outdoor Equity Fund, which will dedicate public and private funds toward getting underserved communities out in nature. In the past week, the state received more than $1 million in grant funding applications, showing a strong desire from our communities to be a part of this positive solution.
In Congress, Democrats Sen. Tom Udall and Rep. Deb Haaland have introduced a 30×30 resolution supporting a growing effort to conserve and restore at least 30% of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030. The resolution would set a national goal and allow states like New Mexico to work out the details among a broad coalition of stakeholders, including hunters, anglers and Indigenous communities like mine.
As a young conservationist and sportswoman, I am excited to be part of a new generation of advocates working hard to reverse the course we are on. Being Dine’ I view Native Americans as the original land managers who have sought to keep a healthy balance between humans, wildlife and nature, and I am glad to see our principles finally getting the attention they deserve.
The 30×30 effort is new, but by starting these conversations now, we can make sure that any 30×30 goal we pursue helps close the nature gap and ensures nature’s benefits are distributed fairly among all people in New Mexico.
We won’t correct generations of policies that cemented inequality into our system overnight. Nor will we solve the crisis facing nature without a long-term, collective commitment to safeguarding natural places. The first step to solving both is seeing how interconnected they really are. Thanks to New Mexico for taking that first step.