In my work as Executive Director of HECHO I am blessed to spend my days working to protect our public lands and watersheds as well as ensuring that Latinos are contributing their views and participating in conservation policy discussions. I am also blessed to work with passionate advocates who are equally dedicated to our earth and our heritage. I have learned that our voices can be very powerful when speaking in unison with conviction and clarity.
In late November, our mission and our passion came together when HECHO Advisory Board Members from Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah flew to Washington D.C. to speak directly to their members of Congress on the importance of protecting our shared public lands by reauthorizing the Land Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This is a bi-partisan program funded by royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling. These revenues are used by parks and recreation areas for upkeep and improvements – more than 41,000 projects from town ball parks to city parks to our state and federal parks benefit from the fund.
The legislation that provides the funding authorization expired at the end of September and there is a concern that this outgoing congressional body will not act to continue the funding.
We lose every day the LWCF is not funded.
HECHO recognizes the importance of holding our elected representatives accountable and sharing our concerns for our future, and our children. Although HECHO is relatively young and still growing, I believe we were very successful in demonstrating effective, diverse conservation advocacy in our meetings with members of Congress.
Seven HECHO Advisory Board Members joined us; three from Arizona, two each from New Mexico and Utah. We came as hunters, anglers, hikers, campers, and outdoor enthusiasts. We are came as community leaders, elected officials, or just “regular” people. Over the course of our trip, we had educational sessions for our group to prepare them for their visits on the Hill, night-time tours of the national monuments, fellowship and learning from each other and even some “celebrity” sightings during our Capitol tour. Our Arizona delegation ran into Congressman and civil rights hero John Lewis, who graciously stopped to meet them and shake their hands. Then later, outside one of the Congressional cafeterias, they saw Congressman Joaquin Castro, who will be the next Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. They let both Congressmen know why they came to DC—to advocate for the permanent reauthorization of and funding for the LWCF-- and they both thanked the group for doing such great work in the Capital.
During our visit, HECHO met with 13 lawmakers and/or their staffers from our home states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah and told moving stories about our connections to the land (read these stories here on our blog).
Arizona HECHO Advisory Board Member Sylvia Lovato Huereña prepared for her meetings by researching the LWCF site online and discovering how her community was directly impacted. “So many places that are important to me are funded through the LWCF,” she said in her meeting with Congressman Raúl Grijalva’s office. Sylvia’s ability to powerfully convey how the LWCF and other conservation programs directly affected her community made an important and memorable statement to her elected officials. Funds from LWCF had been used to support her local ball park where the children of her community play, trails where she has hiked, and hatcheries where she has fished.
Sylvia was joined by her husband Lupe, who is a hunter and a veteran, and Viviana Reyes from Phoenix, AZ. For all three of them, this was the first time they had visited Washington, D.C. and their representatives. Their passion and energy during a busy day of meetings was incredible!
HECHO Advisory Board Chair Rock Ulibarri can trace his family back seven generations on their land in New Mexico. Rock expressed his gratitude for the funding that the Gallinas River Park in Las Vegas, NM has received. He and Kent Salazar, from Albuquerque, met with Senators Heinrich and Udall. I get goosebumps every time he speaks about his familial connection to the land. “My family has hunted and fished and grown our food here. We are the stewards of this land. The blood of my father’s birth is soaked into our land.”
Utah State Representatives Rebecca Chavez-Houck and Mark Archuleta Wheatley were the HECHO Advisory Board Members visiting Congressional Representatives Bishop, Stewart, and Curtis and Senator Lee’s office. We had good meetings with each of these members of Congress, but at times it seemed that not everyone agreed on the future of the LWCF. Nonetheless, we still visited with them and let them know our views. With Congressman Bishop as Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, we were able to thank him for working with Ranking Member Grijalva to pass out of that committee a bi-partisan bill to permanently reauthorize LWCF. (After our visit, Utah State Rep. Wheatley had an op-ed published in the Salt Lake Tribune, which you can read here.)
All of our Advisory Board Members were impactful advocates even though some of them were visiting their members of congress for the first time. By sharing their personal experiences in the formal setting of Washington D.C., they made a lasting impression on our federal lawmakers.
HECHO will continue to work to further our mission by helping to support Hispanic leaders to effectively and consistently talk about conservation issues while also promoting Hispanic heritage and culture.
I am thankful to have spent that week in Washington with our HECHO Advisory Board as we advocated for permanent re-authorization of the Land Water Conservation Fund. I look forward to many more opportunities to raise our voices together to preserve our culture and our lands for the future.
Fortunately, there is an opportunity right now for you to call your representatives and urge them to support reauthorizing the LWCF before it’s too late. If you've never called your representatives, here are some great tips and information on LWCF for you. Let us know you called, how it went, and if you want to stay involved here.
P.S. Check out our post-visit Facebook Live video messages after our time meeting with our members of Congress and share them with your friends.