At HECHO, our mission inspires us to care for the natural resources that we all rely on. We know that Hispanics and Latinos care about protecting our outdoor spaces and resources, but that hasn’t always translated into action. That is why HECHO is working to provide opportunities to weigh in and advocate for conservation issues that affect us all. From the air we breathe, to the waterways we recreate in, issues such as climate change, wildlife protection, clean water, conservation funding, and cutting methane are essential to learn about and participate in for the protection of generations to come. Read on to learn about 5 conservation issues that affect our community.
Scientific consensus has made it clear that global temperatures are rising and will continue to rise unless we significantly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Most of us are already experiencing or seeing with our own eyes the effects of climate change- from more intense and longer wildfire seasons, to impacts on human health, wildlife, agriculture, the water supply, ecosystems, and more. Our “human activities, especially emissions of heat trapping greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, and land-use change are primarily responsible for the climate changes observed in the industrial era.”
We know that climate change is happening, and we know what the cause is, yet we are not doing enough to cut greenhouse gas emissions. With 78 percent of Latinos who say they have directly experienced the effects of climate change and 72 percent of Latinos who say they support policies and candidates that would protect the environment, Latinos can lead and unite in action over this issue.
Adding to this clear and strong support by Latinos for action on climate change is the reality that climate change disproportionately affects Latinx communities. In the U.S., states most affected by extreme heat, air pollution, and flooding are where the majority of Latinos live. Even more, Latinos are 165 percent more likely to live in counties with unhealthy levels of particulate matter pollution, and are also 51 percent more likely to live in counties with unhealthy levels of ozone than are non-Hispanic whites. The unfortunate consequence of this is that Latino children are twice as likely to die from asthma attacks.
Despite this, communities are working hard to combat climate change and air pollution through increased activism that demonstrates public support for action to public officials, directly contacting public officials, and also individual actions that reduce one’s carbon footprint. In 2019, #ChildrenVsClimateCrisis led the charge, with marches and school strikes taking place globally to compel leaders to act on climate change.
However, to make the significant changes to the current trajectory we are on global leaders must put in place extraordinary policy changes. In 2015, the Paris Climate Accord was adopted by several countries, applying “[i]mprovements to energy efficiency and vehicle fuel economy, increases in wind and solar power, biofuels from organic waste, setting a price on carbon, protecting forests.”
HECHO supports policies that promote climate solutions like increasing clean energy and energy efficiency, reducing emissions from power plants through the Clean Power Plan, reducing oil and gas development on public lands, and stopping methane gas from leaking and venting (methane is a greenhouse gas that is 84 times more potent that carbon dioxide). Join us in calling on our leaders to put these policies into action.
Protecting our wildlife directly translates to our ability to enjoy and practice centuries-old cultural traditions. That is why this year’s news that 1 million species are at risk of extinction worldwide comes as a major wake up call for us all to do more to protect wildlife.
Here in the United States, one-third of all wildlife species are at risk-- species like the Apache trout, the golden eagle, and the Pinyon jay. Through State Wildlife Action Plans, each state wildlife agency has identified species that are imperilled, and with proactive conservation actions these agencies could help recover these species. In the United States, more than 12,000 species have been identified for conservation efforts, and the list includes species of birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, butterflies, bumblebees, bats, and freshwater mussels-- all at risk.
To help solve this issue, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA) would dedicate $1.3 billion annually to state led wildlife conservation efforts and $97.5 million for tribal nations, and would be the most significant investment in wildlife conservation in over 30 years. RAWA will help wildlife before their circumstances become more dire, while also seeking to recover species that are already listed as threatened or endangered. If passed by Congress, RAWA would empower states to take the necessary precautions to protect and preserve species that are vulnerable to extinction. Join HECHO in supporting RAWA by writing a letter or calling your representatives, and sign on to show your support.
Another way that HECHO supports wildlife is through our advocacy for wildlife corridors. Wildlife corridors are pathways or routes that connect habitat and are key for wildlife survival. These areas foster seasonal movement, between summer and winter range. They are critical for wildlife to find mates to ensure genetic diversity. Migration routes increasingly are also used for wildlife seeking new habitat because of natural disasters or climate change. Wildlife corridors also include aquatic linkages, which allow fish and other species to move freely through watersheds.
Connected wildlife habitat span state borders, and between Colorado and New Mexico, 5 connectivity corridors have been proposed to ensure that wildlife maintains its ability to move freely within the region across the Carson National Forest, Santa Fe National Forest, and the Rio Grande National Forest. We are working with local leaders in the Upper Rio Grande Basin to demonstrate support for these corridors to the Forest Service to ensure that they are included in management plans for decades to come.
Clean Water Protection
We all expect to have access to clean water because every living being needs water to survive. We also expect that our waterways are free of pollution for recreation, wildlife, and growing food. However, without adequate laws and regulations everything from untreated waste water to mining waste to toxic chemical contamination of water becomes a serious threat to clean water supplies. Clean water protection means responsible stewardship of our land because land and water are connected.
For example, the lands just outside the official boundaries of the Grand Canyon National Park were opened up for uranium mining claims. New mining claims within five miles of the park increased to 1,130 by January 2008. Running through the Grand Canyon is the Colorado River, which provides drinking water for 26 million people. In 2010, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) “found elevated radioactivity at every mining site they visited relative to a nearby un-mined watershed with similar geology. Groundwater samples from many of those mines also exhibited uranium concentrations above EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] standards, whereas the natural background for dissolved uranium in Grand Canyon’s watershed is far below EPA standards.”
As explained by the Grand Canyon Trust, “[s]cientists and geologists have found compelling evidence indicating that the canyon’s springs are connected to the aquifers surrounding the canyon. This connection could spell disaster for the Havasupai people, whose sole source of drinking water comes from the Muav aquifer and impact millions of people who rely on the Colorado River for clean drinking water.”
That’s why, in 2012, then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar issued a 20-year moratorium on new uranium mining claims on one million acres of public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon National Park. Now, 7 years into the moratorium, funding to research the effects of uranium mining contamination on water has not come through, and the current administration and certain Congressional members are trying to re-open up these public lands so that uranium mining companies can make new claims.
Today, we are working to compel our leaders to fully protect the Grand Canyon watershed. Add your voice and join us in protecting clean water in the Grand Canyon watershed.
Funding for Conservation
Funding to maintain our public lands and waters, parks, and open spaces, is essential, yet each year we have to fight hard to ensure that budgets include resources for our most precious natural resources. That’s why so many people supported the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a program that for 50 years used a small percentage of royalties from oil and gas offshore drilling to protect land in our national parks, wildlife refuges, preserving cultural sights, and more. When the LWCF was permanently reauthorized in March 2019, it was a major victory for all. However, year after year communities have to fight hard to receive appropriated funding from Congress that would go to LWCF projects.
Now, we are working to get full, dedicated funding for LWCF from Congress. For years, the LWCF funds have been diverted by Congress to pay for other budget items. In fact, $22 billion that should have been appropriated to protecting our land and water, parks and open spaces instead went elsewhere. The LWCF is an important legacy that we will hand down to the generations that follow. It safeguards the notion that all Americans, regardless of cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds, have equal ownership and access to our public lands. Preserving these spaces represents a fundamental American value, and for Latinx communities, the LWCF means the conservation of important places like Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Arizona, local ball parks for children, hiking trails, and fish hatcheries. Additionally, locations that are funded through LWCF often provide one of the only means for Latinx and other diverse communities to experience the outdoors because LWCF supports local parks and projects. Ensuring that communities of color can access green space and enjoy physical activity outdoors is fundamental, and something that LWCF supports. According to the Hispanic Access Foundation, 85% of Latinos support the reauthorization of LWCF, with 94% of Latinos seeing public lands such as national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas as an “essential part” of the economies in these states.
Join HECHO and organizations like the National Wildlife Federation and Hispanic Access Foundation in advocating for funding the LWCF.
Cutting Methane Emissions
Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the first two decades after its release. Methane emissions are currently happening at oil and gas production refineries and can also occur as a result of raising livestock, and by the waste in landfills. Adopted as a rule in 2016, the Methane Waste Rule seeks to “prevent the loss of natural gas through venting, flaring, and leaks on public lands.” According to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), as a result of the rule, “oil and natural gas producers operating on public lands would capture an additional 31 billion cubic feet of gas each year, enough to supply approximately 740,000 households. The rule would also substantially reduce emissions of methane, which would fall by up to 180,000 tons per year.” However, problematically, this rule was rolled back by the current administration, so now oil and gas companies can continue to waste gas and pollute our air.
As a result of this rollback, the current administration is putting our health at risk. Latinos are especially affected by the health impacts of oil and gas development. In fact, over 23 million Latinos live in areas that violate the federal air pollution standards for ozone, according to a recent report by the National Hispanic Medical Association and the League of United Latin American Citizens. Methane release can trigger life-threatening asthma attacks, worsen respiratory conditions, and cause cancer. The BLM Methane Waste Rule mitigates these negative consequences, and we are supporting efforts to challenge the rescission.
Learn more about the conservation issues that affect our community by joining HECHO’s online ambassador program to continue to do the work of elevating the voices of community members who many not have a seat at the table. Join us!