RACs – One More Opportunity to Make Latino Voices Heard

Liz and her son Demetrius talking a walk in the forest.

Liz and her son Demetrius talking a walk in the forest.

By Liz Archuleta, HECHO’s Arizona Spokesperson, currently serving her fifth term on the Coconino County Board of Supervisors representing District Two

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For many generations, Latino families in western states have enjoyed our shared public lands.  These precious places are where we hunt and fish, where we gather our fire wood, where we take our families on camping trips, where we hike, bike, and get away from it all to connect with our heritage and recharge our souls. 

Many people think “public lands” implies they’re simply open to the public. In actuality, it means we are all part owners of these lands – and we all share the responsibility of caring for them too. 

One way to get involved in the management of our public lands is through Resource Advisory Councils (RACs), and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has established 31 of them in the western states. What makes RACs unique is that they are required to be made up of community members who represent various backgrounds and experiences. For example, one member represents ranchers; others represent an Indian Tribe and local elected officials, while others an environmental or recreation group.

The purpose of the BLM Resource Advisory Council is to provide an inclusive approach and consensus-driven recommendations on land use planning, recreation, noxious weeds, and wild horse and burro herd management areas.

Similar to the BLM RAC is the United States Forest Service (USFS) Resource Advisory Committee (RAC).  The purpose of this RAC is to review proposals for projects that take place on the national forests within a county or community and are funded by the Secure Rural Schools Act.  Examples of projects include trail maintenance on forest service land; a community clean-up of refuse left in the forest; wildlife and fish habitat improvement; and forest thinning to prevent wildfires.  The 15 members who make up the RAC work collaboratively and the result is not only project funding, but the engagement of the broader community and the improvement of relationships between community members and national forest personnel.

The 15 member Forest Service RAC must be comprised of community members who represent specific interest groups.  For example, one seat needs to be someone who has a federal grazing permit; another needs to be a school official; another is a hunter; another is a member of an Indian Tribe, etc.

Both BLM and Forest Service RACs include a broad representation of interests and unique perspectives to create an atmosphere of balanced decision-making.  RACs are a great example of how people who represent diverse interests, sometimes conflicting, can work together towards a common goal.

While the requirement for representation from broad categories is certainly a step in the right direction, RACs should also better reflect the population at large – we need gender diversity, ethnic diversity, and age diversity to ensure the most balanced decision-making.

Liz talking about the importance of PILT and Secure Rural Schools in Washington, DC.

Liz talking about the importance of PILT and Secure Rural Schools in Washington, DC.

I sit on the Coconino Forest Service RAC in Arizona, and we strive for that level of diversity. We’ve been very thoughtful in our approach and we have that as a value. I wanted to be on the RAC because, as both a local elected official and a Hispanic female with 5 generations of family members who have hunted or recreated in the outdoors in this community, I have a unique perspective. 

Also, the majority of the district that I represent on the Board of Supervisors has the forest as their backyards.  I wanted to learn about the forest service and about their challenges and opportunities and it has been invaluable to me. Now, I can communicate these things to the residents in my district. Going into the forest is an activity that everybody enjoys, but sometimes we don’t think about all that went into making those forests accessible. 

Although this might be the first time you’ve heard of RACs, RAC positions are actually desirable, coveted positions. I’ve enjoyed it personally and I hope my story inspires more Latinos to apply for these positions.

Liz's son Demetrius on a hike in the forest

Liz's son Demetrius on a hike in the forest

Latinos have a long and strong history of recreating and hunting and fishing on federal and public lands. The projects or issues RACs address are very important to our community because they influence how our lands are managed and protected and how they’re developed for use. If we expect to hand down our land-based traditions and heritage to our children, we need to work today to make our voices heard. Serving on a RAC is one way Latinos can get a seat at the table in terms of policy making and resource decisions.

Sometimes people feel like it’s intimidating to serve on a regional committee, but there’s an orientation that’s provided to all RAC members and there’s plenty of opportunity to learn the processes.  Also, it’s not a huge time commitment. For our particular RAC, we only meet a few times per year.

My time on the Forest Service RAC is almost up, but if you’re interested, it’s important to fill out an application as soon as possible for either the Forest Service RAC or the Bureau of Land Management RAC because the Secretaries of Agriculture and of the Interior appoints the RACs and it can be a lengthy process.  You can look for openings online, in your local newspaper, or in the federal register and find the application for the BLM RAC here and the Forest Service RAC here.