Appreciating Public Lands in a Border Community

By Santa Cruz County, AZ Supervisor Rudy Molera

Both of my parents were born in Mexico, but they immigrated to the U.S. and became legal residents. We grew up in Nogales, Arizona, which is a border town where people regularly go from one country to the other. Growing up, my dad was a rancher.  I would also experience the ranch culture at my grandfather’s ranch in Mexico where we would help with the round up of the cattle. I still do this to this day. One of my neighbors is a cattle rancher and I’m still involved in going out and helping with the round up. It’s given me a deep appreciation for the land. When you’re out there on a horse, you see what it provides for you.

Even beyond the ranch, my dad loved to hunt and he would take us hunting both in the U.S. and Mexico. He hunted everything from squirrels to deer. We also did some deep-sea fishing in Mexico growing up. I caught a sand shark in Kino Bay once when I was 10 or 12 years old and I was really proud of it. We didn’t eat it; we released it. To this day, I typically catch and release unless I have someone that knows how to filet, which I regret never learning how to do. 

Rudy Family Fishing.JPG
IMG_1729 Pena Blanca Event.JPG

Really, every chance we had we were outside enjoying some type of recreational activity. We were having family time and doing something that’s fun, while at the same time learning something you can pass on to your kids.

My experiences growing up not only taught me to respect the land, it also taught me the importance of getting out there. You care more about protecting our land and water when you have a personal relationship with them. Now, I bring that to my work as county supervisor and I organize events that will get the community involved in outdoor recreation.

I recently helped coordinate a fishing day event in my community after hearing from the Fish and Game folks about events they do throughout the state. We’ve never done one in Santa Cruz County, so I organized one in the fall at Pena Blanca Lake.

It brought in adults and their families that have never fished before and it was a very valuable experience for some of those parents.  Fish and Game brings 100 fishing rods and bait, and they teach adults and kids how to bait a hook and how to release a fish.  It brings families together doing things that they normally wouldn’t do.

The last fishing event was so successful (over 100 people attended), that now we will be hosting two fishing days per year – one in the spring and one in the fall.   We are looking forward to partnering with HECHO on fishing days in the future, to discuss with participants how fishing relates to conservation and public lands.

My hope is that these families will start new traditions of getting out there and enjoying all the unique recreational opportunities of our cross-border culture. There are a few lakes here, and there are a lot of people that go down south to the beaches and go deep sea fishing in Mexico.  There’s a lot to experience.

Many people take advantage of other cross border benefits; and it goes for both sides.  In fact, approximately 566,000 people cross from Mexico into the U.S. every month at Nogales port. 

Lots of mountain and road bikers from Mexico come and enjoy our beautiful mountainous areas, and vice versa.  More than anything, you have people from Mexico spending millions of dollars here in our retail stores. Our Wal-Mart is one of the busiest in the whole nation because of the people from Mexico. On the flip side, every day people from the U.S. go to dentists in Mexico.  They have really good dental professionals there. They also buy over-the-counter drugs, shop for food, and go on vacation to the beaches that are only a few hours away.

As Veronica Escobar, the El Paso County judge, recently noted in a New York Times op-ed nationally, the value of cross-border trade is $400 billion.  She wrote: “Too few Americans understand that cross-border trade creates jobs, not just in our region and state but in the rest of the country. In fact, trade with Mexico supports nearly five million American jobs.”

I hope to get more people engaged in recreational opportunities to instill in them the same sense of appreciation I learned growing up. I really value public lands because of my experiences and I just want to do what I can to pass that on to other people to protect our lands for generations to come.