By BEATRIZ SOTO and GABRIEL OTERO
This past week was Latino Advocacy week, a time to support Latino organizations, families, and individuals in becoming advocates for themselves and in their own communities.
We should be talking with our neighbors about how to better protect our communities from environmental injustice and enjoy the public lands surrounding us on the West Slope of Colorado.
Locally, our public lands are beautiful deserts, verdant valleys, flowing rivers, hot springs, lakes, and some of the tallest mountains in our country. Our public lands are also parks, trails, and open spaces near our homes. What makes these lands so special is that from having dias de campo (days outside) in Colorado National Monument, to a family celebration near Thompson Divide, to hiking on Grand Mesa, to snowboarding in the White River National Forest, these lands and the ways we interact with them are as varied as we are.
As Latinos, many of us find a sense of belonging and connection in the outdoors. Our public lands and spaces are a vital part of our thriving communities and our ancestral heritage. All of us can be stewards with a voice in how these lands are used and protected, and our voice is essential in how we enjoy them with our own cultura.
Our voices can lend themselves in an important way as these lands are in peril from development, climate change, and the lack of permanent protections. These stressors put our communities in harm’s way with increased public health impacts, more drought, drastic temperature changes and wildfires. Our over-reliance on oil and gas development is also harming us. Fossil fuel drilling on our public lands results in nearly 25% of all climate emitting pollution in the U.S., and these impacts are disproportionately hurting Black, brown, indigenous, and working-class people. Climate impacts affect our pocket books too by damaging agricultural jobs, and threatening our tourism and outdoor recreation economies.
One global initiative that communities are using to tackle many of these problems is to try to protect 30 percent of public lands and waters by 2030, a movement known as 30x30. These efforts are supported by over 80% of Coloradans, and are locally-driven with opportunities for people to engage and guide decision-making about how to protect the nature closest to where we live. If done right, the goal can be a real opportunity for all people to equitably reap the benefits of access to healthy nature by advocating for our own locally-preferred conservation priorities that safeguard land, water, and wildlife while mitigating the climate crisis.
A healthy climate is the foundation for a thriving economy. Conservation and restoration-oriented jobs supporting 30x30 will drive economically robust, resilient communities transitioning away from boom-and-bust extraction-based economies. Outdoor-driven tourism and recreation, for example, is an economic powerhouse generating $2 billion in state and local tax revenue and 149,000 jobs in Colorado each year. Similarly, restoration is a way to reconnect people with nature close to home, where healing the land can be a path to stronger community relationships, more active civic engagement, and investment in local jobs and long-term community growth. Coming together to create healthier communities is fertile ground for healing social division and building common ground with our neighbors as well.
While conservation is a value many of us share, we don’t all view the land in the same way. Respecting each other and validating our relationship to la madre tierra will be the only way we can successfully protect 30% of lands and waters. Rural and diverse communities of color, who have been historically and systemically excluded from parks and public lands decision-making and management, are advocating for their own conservation priorities and making our outdoor spaces more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. These efforts must continue so that everyone has access and connection to our public lands while feeling like they have a place in our outdoor spaces and are true stewards of these natural resources.
We have to come together, acknowledging our different identities and experiences, so that we can create a plan for the future where everyone can thrive. By instituting community-led policies, we can do more than just sustain our natural environment, but also create great jobs and safer, healthier, and more resilient communities that prosper on Colorado’s West Slope. Together we can ensure all Latinos are a part of the conversation about how we reach those 30x30 goals.
Beatriz Soto is the Directora Defiende Nuestra Tierra through Wilderness Workshop. She is a first-generation Coloradan and she and her family live in Glenwood Springs.
Gabriel Otero is a fourth-generation Coloradan and he and his family live in Fruita. He is the Colorado Plateau representative for The Wilderness Society.