This week, La Opinión published an op-ed from HECHO Advisory Board Member Lenore Loroña Stuart encouraging the National Park Service and all public land management agencies to bring in diverse decision makers to reflect the communities who visit and coexist with these lands.
To view the original op-ed in Spanish, please click here to read it on the La Opinión online portal.
An English translation is available below:
At the 100 year mark of the National Park Service, we call for more diversity in public lands
The cultural heritage and traditions of our community put us in a position to add value to decision making about natural resources
By Lenore Loroña Stuart
This week, we celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service (NPS, for its acronym in English), a time when all who inhabit this country should celebrate and take a moment to reflect. As the writer Wallace Stegner said: "National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect our best rather than our worst." This is a good time to go out and enjoy the natural wonders that our country offers, to enjoy the outdoors and to renew our commitment to protect the environment and our planet. But it is also time to reflect on the next 100 years, not only for national parks but, more generally, for public lands or public domains of our nation (forests, parks, wetlands, nature reserves, etc.), and how their administration and management should reflect the multicultural diversity of our nation.
The agencies that administer this land (US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the US Fish Wildlife Service, among others) should develop and implement strategies to integrate our community into the decision-making process. Today, the Latino community is underrepresented in the processes that determine the present and future of our public lands such as permitting for mining, recreation, wildlife protection, and natural resources conservation, etc.
The cultural heritage and traditions of our community regarding Mother Earth, the environment, and conservation places us in a position to add value to decision making about natural resources that will affect present and future generations. Our ancestors knew how to live in harmony with Mother Earth and their teachings and best practices are still alive and are part of our collective and individual culture.
An example of good planning and incorporating diverse voices in the management of public lands can be seen in the Heritage Area in Yuma, Arizona on the border with the state of California. In this area, adjacent to the Colorado River, wetlands have been restored and space has been created for family life and contact with nature. Development and management of the project has had major participation from Latino communities who have lived in the area for generations and know, inhabit, and have close links with the region. Today, we are proud of this space where natural beauty, conservation, cultural traditions and recreational spaces are merged.
But the responsibility to participate in decision making for public lands is also ours. We must organize as a community and participate in public meetings, present our viewpoints through public written consultation processes, and enter into talks with elected official; in short, we should make the voice of our community heard loud and clear. Together let's make the next 100 years of managing public lands in our country full of the soul and wisdom of the Latino community.