Kent Salazar is a lifelong resident of New Mexico and an avid hunter and outdoorsman who has been supporting conservation efforts on local, state, and national levels for the past 20 years. Kent has served on the New Mexico State Game and Fish Commission and currently serves as the western vice chair of the National Wildlife Federation Board. He also serves on the Valles Caldera Trust Board, appointed by President Barack Obama, in addition to the HECHO Board.
Where did your love of the outdoors come from?
Spending time outdoors has always been a renewal to me, almost like going to church. In the hardest times of my life when I was facing adversity, I found that being outdoors, camping and spending time alone in nature rejuvenated me, brought me back, and cleared my vision of life. I think it does this for many people. If you’re stressed or having a problem, go for a walk in a park. Take some time and get outdoors. People need this connection to nature.
How did your passion for the outdoors evolve into conservation advocacy?
As an avid hunter, angler and outdoorsman, I saw a lot of things going on that weren’t right – laws that affected all of us as citizens being manipulated by special interest groups. Having a background in public administration, I know you can’t just sit back and complain. If you don’t like what’s happening, you need to stand up and get involved. These special interest groups spend a lot of money lobbying in the legislatures and, as grassroots citizens, we don’t have that kind of financial power. But we have the power of voting, speaking out, attending public meetings and getting involved. That’s what I’ve always done and what I encourage others to do.
Why did you decide to be on the HECHO Advisory Board?
I was asked to be on the board and I said, ‘Of course!’ Hispanics are the largest growing minority in the U.S. and they’re very concerned about conservation, yet they’re not involved enough in conservation organizations. HECHO aims to bridge that disconnect, so it was a no-brainer to lend my support to their efforts.
Why do you think that disconnect exists?
It’s a matter of how we’re drawing people in and getting people involved. Latinos are very family oriented, so our organizations and efforts need to reflect that. To date, the leadership of our conservation organizations is predominantly white males. We need to bring women on board who will bring the families, but they have to understand why it’s important to get involved. We’re becoming more and more urban, which is affecting our children’s health. Children need to be reconnected to the outdoors. It is important for their health and well-being. So, conservation is inherently a family well-being issue, and we need to start positioning it that way to engage more Latinos.
How do you envision the growth of HECHO?
We do a lot of things at the legislative levels and I’d like to see HECHO get more involved at the grassroots level. Hispanic communities are tight knit groups – we need to reach out to local groups and communities and get them camping and enjoying the outdoors in their neighborhoods. If we get the mothers and the communities engaged – we set them on a path of empowerment, and then they’ll speak out on behalf of clean water and air in their own communities. That’s why when I heard this organization was starting up I thought, ‘this is wonderful, this is a great thing.’ This is also a hard thing to do, but if we get the right people involved, we can accomplish a lot and help our communities and our future, our children.