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EPA Moves to Clarify Protection for Streams and Wetlands

March 25, 2014 by  

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Today, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed a rule change that would extend their authority over the nation’s streams and wetlands as part of the Clean Water Act. Maite Arce, president of Hispanic Access Foundation, issued the following statement highlighting the importance of this proposal:

“Water is the lifeblood of our environment and as demands grow we need to be vigilant in protecting against pollution and keeping our ecosystems intact. Our river systems are an integral part of our Hispanic heritage and way of life. It’s our moral obligation to conserve the landscape, rivers, wildlife and natural historical places for future generations.  

“This rule change will strengthen the protection of our nation’s streams and wetlands, which in turn supports tourism and agricultural industries. Families, anglers, hunters, recreationist and even businesses depending upon reliable water supplies will benefit from this proposal.

“Clean water is essential for everyone, but Hispanics face disproportionate health hazards largely due to poor environmental health. Greater protections for our nation’s water systems will help address some of the larger health issues that affect our community as a whole.”

Since its founding in 2010, HAF has made building the Hispanic community’s capacity to engage in areas that will improve the lives and well-being for this generation and those to come a focus of its programs. HAF has nurtured the Hispanic community’s strong connection to the natural environment by designing programs for Hispanic families and youth to engage in outdoor experiences, including camping, whitewater rafting, and hiking, in National Parks and areas under consideration for National Monument designation. Most recently, HAF shepherded the groundbreaking formation of Por La Creación Faith-Based Alliance, a new group founded by Hispanic faith leaders dedicated to developing stewards of God’s creation by engaging and educating this generation to leave a legacy for the future.

Faith-based Alliance Applauds Full-funding for LWCF in President’s Budget

March 4, 2014 by  

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Por la Creación Faith-based Alliance, which develops stewards of God’s creation by educating and engaging this generation to leave a legacy for the future, applauded President Obama’s budget proposal and its commitment to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund:

“For way too long, we’ve allowed the Land and Water Conservation Fund to remain underfunded. President Obama has recognized the importance of LWCF in the protection of national parks, forests and wildlife refuges, as well as in the creation of local parks and recreational facilities for youth and families.

“We have a moral responsibility to taxpayers, our communities and future generations to fund LWCF. It protects God’s majesty in the mountains, rivers, deserts and other breathtaking landscapes of our nation for the next generation to enjoy. We need balance between energy development and conservation – it begins with fulfilling the promise to fully-fund LWCF. 

“We thank President Obama for his desire to see LWCF fully funded, now it’s time for Congress to rise to the challenge.”

In 1965, Congress created the LWCF using a portion of royalties paid by oil and gas companies drilling offshore with the intent to balance the depletion of one resource by protecting another. By law, the fund is capped at $900 million annually, but has only been fully funded once in nearly 50 years.

Por la Creación Faith-based Alliance was founded, as an initiative of the Hispanic Access Foundation, by several prominent religious leaders from Western states in the fall of 2013. The Alliance brings common-sense and spiritual guidance to the national discussion about the value of our parks and public lands, and other environmental issues affecting Latinos. This leadership is instrumental in spurring change that preserves our natural treasures for future generations — bringing balance and fairness to how our nation views conservation in relation to energy development.

New Survey: Conservation Could Impact 2014’s Ballot Box

February 13, 2014 by  

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Conservation and land use issues could have the power to sway how western Hispanics vote in 2014 elections, according to the new Colorado College State of the Rockies Project Conservation in the West Poll.

“The West is a major political battlefield this year, and the poll tells us congressional candidates would be wise to consider their position on conservation and land use issues carefully,” said Colorado College economist and State of the Rockies Project faculty director Walt Hecox, PhD. “Westerners want their air, water and land protected, and where a candidate stands on these issues could potentially sway votes.”

This year’s bipartisan survey of 2,400 registered voters — 14 percent of which were Hispanic — across six states looked at voter attitudes on a list of issues, including land use, water supplies, air quality and public lands’ impact on the economy. The results show 77 percent of Hispanics feel that the government restricting access to national parks and public lands hurt small businesses and communities’ economies in the West. In a follow up message to elected officials and land managers, 84 percent of Hispanics believe funding to national parks, forests and other public lands should not be cut, as it provides a big return on a small investment.

“The Rocky Mountain region is politically diverse, with communities running the spectrum from red (predominantly) to purple to blue,” said Colorado College McHugh Professor of Leadership and American Institutions and regular Colorado political commentator Tom Cronin. “These poll results reinforce that a love for protected lands ties western voters together. Westerners across the political spectrum support the work of public land managers and expect conserved public lands to remain that way.”

Other public sentiments expressed in the survey include that:

  • 78 percent of Hispanics, compared to 72 percent of all Westerners, are more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to promote more use of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.
  • 64 percent of Hispanics are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports enhancing protections for some public lands, like national forests.
  • 60 percent of Hispanics are more likely to vote for a candidate who votes to increase funding for land-managing agencies like the U.S. Forest Service.

The survey also holds warning signs for candidates, including that:

  • 70 percent of Hispanics are less likely to vote for a candidate who supports selling public lands like national forests to reduce the budget deficit.
  • 62 percent of Hispanics are less likely to vote for a candidate who reduces funding for agencies like the U.S. Forest Service.
  • 50 percent of Hispanics are less likely to vote for a candidate who voted to stop taxpayer support for solar and wind energy companies.

“Hispanics view the protection of our public lands as a moral obligation. It’s natural that this community would be drawn to candidates who support conservation,” said Maite Arce, president and CEO of the Hispanic Access Foundation. “With the tremendous growth of the Latino voter bloc, especially in the Western states, we’re going to see engagement in environmental policy and advocacy for our public lands at levels we’ve never seen before.”

The results reflect the strong connection Hispanics feel to their public lands, with 95 percent saying they have visited public lands in the last year. More than two-thirds of those surveyed said they would recommend an out-of-state visitor visit the outdoors, like a national park, rather than an attraction in town.

The government shutdown’s effects on Westerners are ongoing. When asked how they felt about the resulting closure of public lands, 87 percent of Hispanics responded with a negative emotion like annoyed, angry, concerned or upset. Potentially as a result of seeing what happens when public lands are no longer available, opposition to the sale of public lands increased from last year’s poll, with 74 percent of all Westerners now rejecting this idea.

The 2014 Colorado College Conservation in the West survey is a bipartisan poll conducted by Republican pollster Lori Weigel of Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic pollster Dave Metz of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates. The poll surveyed 400 registered voters in each of six western states (AZ, CO, NM, UT, WY, MT) for a total 2,400-person sample. The survey was conducted from January 7 through 13, 2014, and yields a margin of error of +/-2.9 percent nationwide and +/-4.9 statewide. The full survey and individual state surveys are available here, on the Colorado College website.

Latino Youth Meet with Gov. Martinez’s Office to Discuss Gila River Protection

February 10, 2014 by  

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Today, seven Latino youth from Las Cruces met with Gov. Susana Martinez’s Office to share their experiences from their visit to the Gila River and why they feel that the proposal to divert its water should be rejected. Six Latino teens are all members of the A.T.O.M.I.C. Youth Group at Santa Rosa de Lima Church and one is a student at Aldo Leopold High School in Silver City.

“Through this experience we connected with nature and were inspired to do our part to protect God’s creation,” said Luis Varela, the youth group leader for A.T.O.M.I.C. “We wanted to tell the story of our trip to the Gila River and why it is important that we all work together to care for it.”

The Latino youth, aged 14 to 19, spent the first weekend of October 2013 camping in the Gila National Forest and taking part in a six-hour hike along the West Fork of the Gila River. Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF), a national nonprofit working to expose more Latinos to the nation’s public lands and emphasize through experience the importance of preserving it for future generations, sponsored the trip.

“Along with the youth from my parish, I strongly oppose a diversion project on the Gila River,” said Father Jesus Martinez, parish priest of Santa Rosa de Lima. “Our faith calls on us to protect God’s creation from destruction or contamination. We have a moral obligation to preserve the natural landscape of the Gila River and wild life habitat.”

In October, the youth group also testified before the State Senate Drought Committee regarding the proposed Gila River Diversion Project, which could not only cost taxpayers an estimated $200 million, but it would also end the Gila’s status as the last free flowing river in New Mexico.

“My experience coming to the Gila River was life-changing,” said Amanda Aguirre, 15, another member of A.T.O.M.I.C. “I think it is important that we do everything we can do keep this river flowing. Why are you going to destroy something so beautiful?”

The thoughts and opinions of this youth group on the Gila River echo that of the state as a whole. A 2013 poll from Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies found that 81 percent of New Mexicans are concerned about water levels in the state’s rivers and 72 percent were concerned about river health in general.

“These kids are vocal champions of their public land heritage and embrace our moral obligation to preserve it,” said Maite Arce, president HAF. “With their personal experience, they are eager to make a difference for the Gila – they are inspired to fight for its protection so that other young people will be able to enjoy it in the future.”

Ella Kirk, 10th grader from Aldo Leopold Charter School in Silver City, joined the youth group in the meeting. Kirk presented her petition regarding protection of the Gila River. Her petition received 6,470 signatures from New Mexico and around the world urging Gov. Martinez to support non-diversion alternatives under the Arizona Water Settlements Act to meet southwest New Mexico’s water needs while protecting the Gila River, New Mexico’s last free-flowing river.

“It is really important that young people and people who live in New Mexico, who care about the river, get involved in protecting it,” said Kirk. “It’s a very complicated issue and the more different perspectives and different people advocating the better. I live along the Gila River and appreciate everyone working to protect it.”

Father Jesus Martinez: A moral obligation to preserve Gila River

December 2, 2013 by  

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I am the parish priest of Santa Rosa de Lima in Las Cruces, and I believe that our community must speak up to preserve the Gila River. Recently, a group of our parish’s youth took a trip to hike along the Gila River and understand the threats to the river and its habitat. We learned that the Gila River is the last natural and free flowing river in New Mexico, and is a tremendous resource providing water to irrigate farms and ranches, a home for wildlife, and a place for people to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation.

Yet, the Gila River could become forever altered by a proposal before Governor Martinez’s New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission to build a large-scale diversion reservoir and pipeline from the river to Deming or Las Cruces.

Along with the youth from my parish, I strongly oppose a diversion project on the Gila River. Our faith calls on us to protect God’s creation from destruction or contamination. From the beginning God created a clean, intact world. Genesis 1:31 says, “God looked at everything he had made and indeed, it was very good.”

We have a moral obligation to preserve the natural landscape of the Gila River. It is important for all of us to enjoy places largely untouched by human hands, as exploring the wilderness is one of the ways we are able to take a break from the stress of modern life and connect with what truly matters. Taking my parish into the outdoors for celebrations of mass and community picnics has been a wonderful way to re-energize our spirits. I encouraged the youth from my parish to go on this outing because I wanted them to experience the peace that can be found in the great outdoors. For many, this was their first time camping and hiking in our state’s beautiful wilderness. They returned speaking enthusiastically about the beauty of the river, its natural surroundings and the wildlife they encountered.

The youth also returned with a sense of responsibility that they must care for the Gila River. As one young woman in my parish so eloquently expressed, “God gave us this river and forest to take care of it, not to destroy it.” We are called to not only enjoy the beauty of nature, but to take responsibility for its care as stewards of God’s creation. We can be good stewards of the Gila River by choosing alternative plans that would conserve and provide the water our region needs for generations to come. Not only will a diversion and reservoir alter the natural landscape of the Gila River, but it would hurt the wildlife that call this river home and could result in less water for the Gila River in the long-term. If we are truly to be stewards of God’s creation, we must consider the long-term impact of a temporary solution to our region’s water scarcity. Over the long-term, this river diversion project won’t help our water supply problems in severe droughts because we won’t be able to use the river water if it drops below certain levels.

Sadly, the Gila River is already flowing at historically low levels and a diversion project would only reduce it further. Even the low water levels of the river, recently increased by rain and flash flooding, impressed the youth. Many of them commented that they have not seen a real river in a long time because the Rio Grande in Las Cruces is rarely flowing with water. We may live in a dry region where water is a precious resource, but that should not mean that our children rarely see or experience a healthy river and the wildlife it supports. Neither they, nor I, want to see our state lose another beautiful, free flowing river and important source of water in our state. Through conservation and careful management, we can preserve the Gila River’s natural beauty, wildlife, and water now and for the future.

Our youth are the ones who will gain or lose the most from whether or not we choose to seek alternatives to a diversion project on the Gila River, and they have taken the lead in speaking up for the Gila River at the New Mexico Legislative Interim Drought Subcommittee that met in Las Cruces earlier this month. In following their example, I encourage Governor Martinez to be a good steward of our natural resources by protecting the Gila River.

Father Jesus Martinez is the priest at Santa Rosa de Lima Catholic Church.

 

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