Colorado College Poll: Conservation Is a Key Issue for Latinos

Hispanic_Hiking_Man
Spring on the Jemez
Spring on the Jemez

A couple of decades ago I packed my pickup and journeyed through what I consider the homeland (before the term "homeland" took on darker connotations). I drove through mountains, llanos and deserts, crossing borders and following the footsteps of ancestors, with the aim of connecting with both Spanish and Native roots and learning about the ancient family tradition of curanderismo. While I learned a lot from people I met, I also learned a lot from the landscape. Whether I was surrounded by organ pipe cacti or ponderosa pine, whether there was bare rock underfoot or fertile soil, I realized that every place had provided our ancestors with sustenance and healing. Every place evoked stories. Every place held spiritual value. And sadly, nearly every place was threatened. I also realized that among Latinos it practically went without saying that we were concerned, even angry about the things that were threatening our land and lifeways. Now the secret is out. Today the groundbreaking Conservation in the West Poll by Colorado College enlightens the rest of the world that Latinos know and are concerned about the threats to the land. Moreover, the poll indicates that we stand stronger on the environment than Anglos as well as other ethnic groups, and that we will support pro-conservation candidates with our votes. According to the poll, forty-three percent (43%) of us fish and/or hunt. Fully half of us visit public lands more than five times per year. When the government shut down last fall, nearly all of us (90%) had emotions ranging from concerned to angry that parks and forests were closed -- we still value the land, we have history on the land, and we are more likely than most people to support protecting public lands and funding national parks and forests. We strongly oppose selling off public lands to help reduce the federal budget deficit. The poll calls out one significant issue: balanced development through Master Leasing Plans (MLP). Seventy-one percent (71%) of Latinos agree with the MLP's central idea that drilling should be kept to appropriate places so wildlife habitat, air quality, water quality and hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation can be protected. Clearly, our values for the landscape and everything that lives on it remain strong, and we are willing to participate in management decisions. But what, really, is the significance of this poll? Latinos have always known they care about the land. So now the rest of the world knows. What does it really mean? It's the vote that counts -- the "Hispanic Vote," the "Latino Vote." In 2012, Latinos comprised 10% of the electorate, and were considered the swing vote in many elections -- even so, only about half of us who were eligible voted. The 2014 midterm election could be the first midterm election where our collective vote is the determining factor, and there are over 30 seats up for grabs in the House. Since Latinos are likely to support canditates who promote renewable energy, fund public lands agencies and enhance protection of public lands, it stands to reason that such candidates may be more likely to get elected. It also stands to reason that those of us who love the great outdoors are in a favorable position to exercise our voices, and to register and cast a vote that really counts. We should tell office holders and candidates that we stand for the land - so they had better, too. We seek smarter, more balanced approaches to development. We want our parks and forests funded. We want a healthy future for our children. For centuries, Latinos have enjoyed and cared about the mountains and plains and deserts, about the streams and lakes and seashores. We have depended upon the trees and herbs and the wildlife and the fish. This is our home. Now more than ever, we are empowered and should be emboldened to protect it.