On March 3rd in Santa Fe, I sat on a Sustainable Recreation panel for the USDA Forest Service Southwestern Regional Chief’s Review. Sustainable recreation is a concept used to describe managing our public lands so that all Americans can receive the benefits of outdoor recreation today and in the future. It was an interesting panel, intentionally structured to showcase a variety of perspectives of how to maximize existing, but untapped, opportunities, increase diversity, and effectively leverage partnerships.
On the panel we were asked to share a key message with the Forest Service’s top leadership. My key message was for the Forest Service to more effectively reach out and engage multi-cultural communities by fostering leadership, especially during decision-making processes. Empowering multi-cultural communities to be leaders and inviting them to participate in discussions about the future of our lands is so critical. Encouraging multi-cultural stories and histories to be told through our land heritage is also an essential part of ensuring that all Americans benefit from our outdoor resources. When diverse cultures and stories are shared widely and as part of our nation's identity, authentic support for our lands grows.
I offered two ideas to the Forest Service where they could focus their efforts to increase leadership, empowerment, and support for our public lands in multi-cultural communities:
1) Resource Advisory Councils (RACs) should have more diverse representation. Right now there are 15 slots that could be filled by a commercial timber representative, someone with a grazing permit, someone who’s an outdoor recreation enthusiast, an off-highway vehicle user, an organized labor person, somebody representing a regional environmental organization, etc. Diversifying interests is important, but equally as important is including ethnic and cultural diversity. Without this representation you have a group of people that don’t understand the issues associated with communities that the Forest Service hopes to reach and should be serving.
2) Engage multi-cultural leaders in land planning processes. The Forest Service revises their forest plans and Travel Management Plans on a regular basis. During those processes they should make every effort to reach out to communities that will be affected. People will be more committed to supporting the Forest Service’s mission if they are engaged in, and thinking about, the complex challenges of land management. We need their unique perspectives, and their support.
My goal that day was to demonstrate how HECHO is engaging Latino leaders and how it could be valuable for the Forest Service to do the same. We know people are connected to the land, it’s just a matter of getting them engaged, supporting their efforts to speak up and identifying opportunities where their voices will have real impact.
Are you ready to speak up? Please let us know so we can support you.