By Liz Archuleta
Believe it or not, some good news has come out of Washington recently related to public lands.
On March 23, President Trump signed the omnibus spending bill, which included a two-year reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act (SRS Act). This is hugely important for supporting schools in rural areas, as well as road maintenance and Forest Service Resource Advisory Committees (RACs), which are solely funded by this bill.
Forest Service RACs are made up of community members across the country who want to influence how federal funds are spent to benefit local forest. In my area of Coconino County, Arizona, for example, we receive $4 million from the SRS Act. We use some of this money for RAC projects such as building trails by youth conservation groups; restoring watersheds; protecting wildlife habitat; and forest thinning to prevent wildfires. The rest goes toward road maintenance and schools. For rural areas, sometimes this money supports the only schools in the area. Each community is unique, but every RAC represents different points of view.
Forest Service RACs are made up of 15 people from diverse backgrounds, including a rancher, a hunter, a member of an Indian Tribe, an environmentalist and a local elected official. (Read more about RACS in my previous blog post on the topic here.) But it’s also crucial that these decision-making bodies represent ethnic diversity, including Latinos. That is where you come in!
The time is now to apply for positions available on your local RAC. You can have a real impact on how the Forest Service spends money to protect resources in your area. The connection between Hispanics and the outdoors, including hunting and fishing and other cultural outdoor traditions, should play a role in these decisions. HECHO can help support you in presenting these issues to the RACs and how to convey the significance of Hispanic hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts in protecting our forests.
RAC funding allows communities to interface with the Forest Service and prioritize projects that RAC members believe will be most beneficial for the forest and the community. It is valuable for Hispanics to strengthen relationships with the Forest Service and educate them about our centuries-old cultural ties to the land. This is our land and we are the stewards.
For many generations, Latino families 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.
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. It’s not a big time commitment, but it can make a big difference.
I served on our local RAC for 6 years, but my time is now up. Is it your turn?
Liz Archuleta, HECHO’s Arizona Spokesperson, is currently serving her fifth term on the Coconino County Board of Supervisors representing District Two.