THE HILL - Latinos Embrace Environmental Stewardship

Latinos embrace environmental stewardship

As news broke that the U.S. Senate passed the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and Jerry Peak Wilderness Additions Act (SNRA+) and the bill would be sent on to President Obama for signing, Idahoans throughout the state, including the Latino community, rejoiced.

After more than 30 years of efforts that built local support from numerous stakeholders, the Boulder-White Clouds finally have permanent protection through a wilderness designation. This not only marked the first time since 2009 that a standalone wilderness bill passed in Congress, but it also passed unanimously.  

For Latinos, which account for 12 percent of Idaho’s population – the 16th largest Hispanic statewide population in the nation – we couldn’t help but to celebrate the new law ensuring that families in Idaho will have access to healthy recreation, more economic opportunities, and clean water and air. 

In contrast to the common myth that Latinos are primarily concerned with immigration policy issues, Latinos have embraced environmental stewardship. As evidenced by the community’s work around places like the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, Browns Canyon National Monument, and the California Desert, Latinos embody the belief that our water, wildlife, cultural treasures and public lands are entrusted to us to be protected and preserved for the next generation.  

The same is true for the Boulder-White Clouds.

In July as part of Latino Conservation Week, I took a group of parents and youth from my church, joined by several other local pastors and members of their congregations, to the Boulder-White Clouds to explore the area and learn more about the efforts to protect this public land. To say the experience motivated us to do more to fulfill our moral responsibility would be an understatement. 

Permanently protecting places like the Boulder-White Clouds also brings important contributions and opportunities to local economies through increased tourism. Idaho’s outdoor recreational industry already supports 77,000 jobs and $6.3 billion in annual sales. As the Latino population in Idaho continues to increase steadily — a 73 percent increase over the last decade — the availability of job opportunities will be beneficial for the growth and sustainability of our community and the rest of the state. The newly protected Boulder-White Clouds area will have a positive impact on Idaho's economy, while also preserving a world-class recreational and ecological resource. 

The Obama administration, USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie, Sen. Jim Risch (R-Ida.) and Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Ida.) were key to ensuring that input from all groups, including Latinos, was heard in building broad community support. And their efforts to shepherd the bill through Congress were instrumental.  

But, this took more than 30 years culminating in legislation that had been in the works for more than a decade. Protecting our wild landscapes should not be so difficult. Other communities around the country should not have to wait decades for Congress to protect America’s cultural, historic and natural heritage for future generations.  

This is why it is critical that all of the tools available to protect and preserve our public lands, including the Antiquities Act, remain intact. Established by Congress in June 1906, the Antiquities Act is one of the most powerful tools to preserve open space, natural treasures and historical sites in the U.S. It has been used by 16 presidents -- eight Republicans and eight Democrats -- to create 131 national monuments -- including the inspiring Grand Canyon, the iconic Statue of Liberty and many other of our nation's most spectacular and historically important public lands. Yet, some members of Congress want to strip the President of this authority regardless of the fact many of the great places that shaped our nation’s evolution would never have been protected and could have been lost forever without it.

Preserving the best in America costs us so little – presidents are permitted only to designate national monuments from existing federal public lands. Using the Antiquities Act authority simply means that the government is designating an appropriate and responsible use for the land American taxpayers already own. 

While it’s easy for us to celebrate the new Boulder-White Clouds wilderness in Idaho, we shouldn’t be content for too long. There are far too many other wild places throughout the nation that need protecting and we can’t wait another 30 years to permanently protect them.

Ruano is pastor of the Rosa de Saron Asamblea de Dios Church.

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