HECHO Board Member Kent Salazar, lifelong resident of New Mexico and an avid hunter and outdoorsman, has been busy lobbying for important conservation bills in the state legislature. Just a 30-day session in 2018 (New Mexico’s legislative sessions alternate each year between 30- and 60-day sessions), there is a lot to do in a short amount of time!
Kent partners with many other conservation, wildlife and social justice organizations as part of the Environmental Alliance of New Mexico to support each other’s important efforts, but HECHO is focused on two in particular this year:
The first is House Memorial 37, introduced by State Representatives Angelica Rubio and Joanne J. Ferrary, recognizing “the meaningful engagement of Hispanic people and all New Mexicans in environmental protection and conservation efforts and encouraging the participation of Hispanic New Mexicans in activities and programs that engage the community in the outdoors.” The bill notes Hispanic people’s history in New Mexico going back to the 16th century, and that Hispanic people remain the largest single ethnic group in the state. Here are a few excerpts from the bill:
WHEREAS, despite their numbers and longstanding roles as stewards of New Mexico's land, Hispanic people are underrepresented among the institutions and entities that manage New Mexico's public lands; and
WHEREAS, each person should have the opportunity to discover his or her history, culture and heritage by exploring and experiencing New Mexico's public lands; and
WHEREAS, the people of New Mexico, including people of all backgrounds, must ensure that New Mexico's public lands and natural environment are protected and equally accessible for future generations of all backgrounds…
BE IT RESOLVED that the role of Hispanic people in protecting and preserving the land, water and wildlife of the United States and, in particular, New Mexico, be recognized;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Hispanic New Mexicans be encouraged to participate in activities and programs that engage the community in the outdoors and bring awareness to the importance of conservation.
HECHO could not agree with this more, and thanks the legislators of New Mexico for this Memorial bill, which you can read in full here.
The second bill, which HECHO strongly opposes, is being proposed by PNM – the largest public utility company in the state. Senate Bill 47 and House Bill 80 Energy Redevelopment Bond Act would close the nation’s most polluting coal plant, which in itself is good for the environment and presents an opportunity to transition to clean energy. However, the bill only looks to protect PNM’s bottom line, without taking into consideration families in the Four Corners region, many of whom are Navajo. Kent Salazar joined other conservation groups in the state in a letter to the legislature saying that they will oppose this bill unless PNM works to: 1) Diversify the local economy and replace jobs that will be lost due to the plant’s closing; 2) Present a plan for transitioning to a clean-energy future; and 3) Ensure that taxpayers will benefit from PNM’s savings. We are still waiting to find out what will happen.
Other bills that Kent is working on involve fighting a damn in the Gila River that would harm wildlife; increasing solar tax credits to help people transition to clean energy (not likely to pass, says Kent); and asking the Governor to replace dirty, diesel-run school busses in the South Valley – a mostly Hispanic community - with electric vehicles. This last bill was proposed by mothers in the community, many of them do not speak English as their first language, but they were able to testify and speak out to protect their children.
Kent feels strongly about encouraging all Hispanics in New Mexico to call their representatives about the issues they care about, and make their voices heard. “If you’re going to be enjoying the outdoors you also have a responsibility to find out what’s going on and voice your opinion,” he says. “In almost all cases the legislators will respond. We all have a responsibility to act.”
When Kent isn’t busy lobbying, he is taking advantage of hunting season, which he said was not the best this year. “Due to the unseasonably dry weather I did not get an animal, but my nephews did,” he said. “They were kind enough to bring me elk meat and venison from their harvest. This is one of our traditions as Hispanics. In our culture we have respect for the wildlife and when we harvest an animal we share it with our family.”
Despite his unlucky fall season in the Gila and Colin-Nesbitt Wildlife areas, Salazar is putting in a request for a permit to go turkey hunting in the spring. He enjoys finding a quiet spot and making crow and owl calls and waiting for the turkeys to respond. “They’ll gobble and then I know they’re there, and then I try to get close enough but not scare them,” he says. “Then I sit down, cluck like a hen, and hopefully they’ll respond and start coming in. Sometimes you’ll be sitting up against a tree and instead of a turkey, comes a bobcat or a cougar!” Even if he doesn’t catch anything, he loves just being in the outdoors.
Although he has never hunted in New Mexico’s National Monuments, he loves to hike at Rio Grande del Norte, and in fact was just there with his sister looking for big horn sheep. Kent is working hard on behalf of HECHO to protect both the Rio Grande del Norte National Moument, as well as Organ Peaks – both under attack by the administration.
“I’m very disappointed in what Interior Secretary Zinke is doing in New Mexico,” says Salazar. “These lands are so important to us and our way of life. Plus we have a big tourist economy based on these monuments. Right now they’re open for hunting and firewood gathering. We like to pick piñon and different herbs and have other cultural uses. I hope they keep their hands off of them and keep them as they are.”