It was encouraging to see Colorado's La Voz raise the issue of oil and gas development as one that affects Latinos, in a recent commentary by James Mejia. As we move closer to the midterm elections, the dialog on national issues has engaged Latinos in a new way.
So, why now?
Latinos collectively now have a permanent and more powerful voice across the political landscape on issues ranging from education to the health care. With energy development booming in the West, the landscape itself has become political.
Mejia noted that issues around fracking pose “difficult choices" for Latinos. The oil and gas industry is actively advertising high paying jobs in Latino communities as that very industry may impact communities where Latinos live and landscapes that are valuable to our recreation and traditions.
But it doesn't have to be a choice between jobs and the environment. At HECHO we believe that there are smart choices for conservation and development —ones that protect public land, keep wildlife and watersheds healthy, and still provide for a strong economy. We can guide the conversation to one of “smart from the start” development when we engage early and collectively.
Just last week Interior Secretary Sally Jewell revealed a mitigation strategy that opens the way for landowners, agencies and others in communities to participate in decision-making before development occurs. Places that are appropriate for drilling can be identified, restoration of affected areas can be ensured, and places that are too fragile for drilling can be protected.
As a major stakeholder community, especially in the West where development is booming, Latinos can and should make their voices heard in the planning process. We need to identify those places that are culturally significant, we need to show where hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreational activities should be able to continue unhindered, and we need to be a strong voice in the decision-making process when it comes to keeping our communities safe.
Most of all we will likely stand - and vote - together as a community to help ensure that development is approached with our values and communities in mind. In a recent op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal, we at HECHO discussed the bipartisan Colorado College poll that indicates Latinos are likely to vote for candidates who support conservation. Conservation-minded candidates will help sustain Secretary Jewell’s new, more inclusive and balanced approach to development.
At HECHO, we are working with the outdoor recreation community, with public agencies and with the Latino community at large to establish a place at the decision-making table. We are also encouraging Latinos to "get out there" and enjoy fishing, hunting, and hiking this spring. While you are out there, think about the places and activities you value in the great outdoors — and be a voice to conserve them.