Diverse voices essential to public lands debate (and in the environmental movement)

HECHO outing at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. Photo credit Juan Palma

HECHO outing at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. Photo credit Juan Palma

By Sarah Martinez, Student Sustainability Ambassador

There is an ongoing debate in Utah surrounding the management of our public lands, and the time to act is now—for everyone.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) controls 42 percent of the land in Utah. That is equal to nearly 22.9 million acres of land controlled by the federal government. Designations for how this land is used—for recreation, hunting and fishing, livestock grazing, and energy extraction—is an ongoing conversation (or more often, argument). One major focal point of this debate is on land near Moab.

The BLM’s Moab Leasing Plan, which is open for public comment through Nov. 23, proposes four options for handling oil, gas, and potash leasing on BLM-administered land near Moab. The options provide different restrictions on resource extraction; however, the BLM’s stated preferred alternative allows for mining of all three aforementioned resources, potentially even in areas with high recreation use.

We cannot let this happen! This drilling and mining would upset and potentially destroy this natural and beautiful land; the benefits do not outweigh the destruction. Everyone needs to speak out against this destruction, and in particular, my fellow Latinos need to get louder.

As part of the Latino community, I believe that we aren’t representing our interests well enough when it comes to the conversation on public lands. These lands hold historical and sentimental value to Latinos, and this plan threatens the integrity of those lands. There is a severe lack of diversity in the environmental movement, and we have an opportunity here to advocate against any further exploration in southern Utah.

Why is the lack of diversity an issue when it comes to the management of public lands? Latinos are one of the fastest growing minority groups in the nation, and they have a deep connection to the history of the American West. Our voices need to be heard. In Utah, Latinos account for nearly 400,000 members of the population and that number is growing. One organization working to combat the lack of diversity in the public lands debate is HECHO, which stands for Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors. This Utah based non-profit organization focuses on Latinos who care deeply about the protection of our public lands. Latinos are a crucial demographic in the recreation economy, as well—they spend, on average, over $100 more on recreation gear than the average consumer, according to research by the Outdoor Industry Association.

Our collective bond and connection to the West should be motivation for all Latinos to rise up as a community and protect its natural landscapes. I don’t know of a single Utahn that doesn’t enjoy a weekend trip to Moab to climb, hike, or just explore. It is a place that holds a special place in most, if not all, of Utahns’ hearts. For Latinos especially though, these lands hold historical and sentimental value; we need to make sure our voice is heard.

The Old Spanish Trail - a famous immigration route - mapped through Southern Utah.

The Old Spanish Trail – a famous immigration route – mapped through Southern Utah.

The time to act is now, and everyone’s voice matters.

We have the opportunity to stand up as a community in the face of this potential desecration of southern Utah’s wild lands. I call upon my fellow students and fellow Latinos to have your voice heard on a critical issue that will affect the places we love in southern Utah. Please send comments to blm_ut_mb_mlpcomments@blm.gov or submit by mail to:

Bureau of Land Management,
Canyon Country District Office
Attn: MLP Comments
82 East Dogwood
Moab, Utah 84532

In addition to speaking to the BLM, you can act now on campus to encourage diverse voices in all debates. Tomorrow there will be a solidarity march in support of anti-racism. The march will start at the Park Building at noon and will move to the Student Union Ballroom for a town hall meeting.

Sarah Martinez is a student sustainability ambassador for the Sustainability Office.

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