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December 2, 2013 by Jennifer Brandt
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.
November 4, 2013 by Jennifer Brandt
Sergio Duran, Wildlife Biology Student at Arapahoe Community College, Denver CO to accompany EcoFlight on a week-long environmental student program
Monday November 4th – Friday November 8th
EcoFlight, a non-profit based out of Aspen, CO, will be conducting its 10th annual Flight Across America (FLAA) Student Program from Monday, November 4th to Friday, November 8th, 2013.
The focus of this year’s program is the “alphabet soup” of designations and protections of public wild lands and the threats facing wilderness-quality lands in the West.
Using flight and ground-based education, EcoFlight’s FLAA program is designed to involve and inform college age students about current conservation issues from a broad range of perspectives and show them through flight how such issues personally impact their lives and the world around them.
Sergio Duran, an alumnus of Environmental Learning for Kids in Denver will be one of eight college students accompanying EcoFlight on overflights of protected and threatened areas in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. They will meet with national and local conservation organizations, sportsmen, business leaders, government officials, the media, local high schools and Navajo youth along the route.
Sergio intends to share his Flight Across America experience by producing an article for the wider Latino community.
Contact: Krysia Carter-Giez, EcoFlight: [email protected] 970 366 8822
Jane Pargiter, EcoFlight: [email protected] 970 618 5443
Michael Gorman, EcoFlight: [email protected] 970 274 4719
October 31, 2013 by fangerpr
WASHINGTON – Maite Arce, founder and president, Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF) today issued the following statement praising Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell’s National Press Club address emphasizing the need to balance between energy development and the protection of public lands:
“We appreciate Secretary Jewel speaking about conservation priorities, specifically encouragement to Congress to support the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and her plans to visit communities to learn more about the public lands worthy of national monument designation. We would be happy to welcome her to Las Cruces, for instance, to discuss public support for protecting the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks. Conservation being a key part of the health and culture of the community.
“Putting conservation on equal ground with energy development is critical to ensuring that future generations will enjoy our nation’s public lands. With common-sense, look-before-you-lease policies, Secretary Jewell can ensure thatthe balance between energy development and the protection of our public lands is a priority for our country.
“We also applaud her commitment to engaging diverse communities and youth with the outdoors and our public lands. Her new initiative for engagement through work and training opportunities will complement the efforts of many groups to bring environmental issues into the forefront of America’s consciousness.
“Hispanics are passionate about their public lands and the more they learn about the threats posed upon them, the more active they become in protecting these natural wonders for future generations. We look forward to working with the Secretary to conserve our public lands heritage.”
Since its founding in 2010, HAF has made building environmental awareness among Latinos, going outdoors and empowering advocates a top priority. HAF has completed programs to take Hispanic families and youth on 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.
October 16, 2013 by Jennifer Brandt
NATHROP, COLO. – Today, prominent Latino religious leaders from Colorado and California joined together to form Por la Creación Faith-based Alliance, which will develop stewards of God’s creations by engaging and educating this generation to leave a legacy for the future. This group seeks to educate other Hispanics and to encourage them to take an active role in supporting the nation’s public lands and protecting our natural resources across the West.
“Pastors can bring common-sense and spiritual guidance to the national discussion about the value of our parks and public lands, and other environmental issues affecting Latinos across the West,” said Maite Arce, president of the nonprofit Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF), which helped organize the group. “Their leadership will be instrumental in sparking change that preserves our natural treasures for future generations — bringing balance and fairness to how our nation views conservation in relation to energy development.”
HAF brought the religious leaders together as part of the inaugural summit “Exploring Stewardship in Protecting and Preserving the Environment.” The summit was held in Nathrop, Colo. for three days, and included fly-fishing in Colorado’s famed Browns Canyon on the Arkansas River. The organization believes this new alliance will encourage more religious leaders to speak up for conservation, especially in communities that are on the front lines of energy development.
“We need energy development for our nation’s energy independence,” said Pastor Joseito Velasquez from Healing Waters Family Center in Denver, Colo. “But we also need to protect wildlife and other aspects of God’s creation in our public lands. We can do both.”
Pastor Velasquez was joined in the Alliance formation by Pastor Rigo Magaña from New Hope Christian Fellowship in Greeley, Colo., Pastors Frank Ruiz from Seventh Day Adventist Church in Indio, Calif., and Jesse Villarreal from Templo La Hermosa and Enrique Orellana from Fuente De Vida Christian Center in Coachella, Calif.
At the summit in Colorado, the group identified environmental issues from each home state that are of concern. In Colorado, the group would like to see Browns Canyon’s public lands and waters protected as a National Monument. Similarly, the Alliance would like National Monument designation to be granted for Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks in New Mexico. For California, the collective is paying special attention to the California Desert Protection Act, which would establish two new national monuments, enhance the existing national parks and ensure renewable energy development happens in appropriate public and private lands, and other environmental issues in the Coachella. Additionally, the alliance will explore the need for adequate funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to protect national parks, and enable communities to build new playgrounds and local parks.
Following the summit, the pastors will return to their communities to educate, engage and empower other religious leaders and community members in advocating for the conservation of God’s creation.
Latino Youth Hike Gila River to Learn Firsthand Why Preservation Is Needed Group will testify today on protecting Gila before State Senate Committee
October 14, 2013 by Jennifer Brandt
WASHINGTON – As the group of 25 Latino youth from Las Cruces stood before the recently washed out trail they traveled three hours to hike, the group took a vote on whether to proceed or turn back. Unanimously, the Santa Rosa de Lima Church youth group chose to continue their journey to the Gila River — New Mexico’s last free flowing river — and learn more about the threats it faces from the proposal to divert its water.
The 25 Latino youth, aged 14 to 19, spent the first weekend of October 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.
“These kids are vocal champions for the outdoors,” said Maite Arce, president HAF. “This weekend was about showing them the beauty of the Gila River and its surroundings. 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.”
In fact, the youth group will testify today before the State Senate Water and Natural Resources Committee regarding the proposed Gila River Diversion Project, which would not only cost taxpayers approximately $200 million, but it would also end the Gila’s status as the last free flowing river in New Mexico.
“Having the opportunity to learn about the Gila River and what it offers to its ecosystem is incredible,” said Paola Rivera, 17, a member of A.T.O.M.I.C. Youth Group from Santa Rosa de Lima Church. “If they were to make a diversion in the river it can affect the things around it greatly. There are animals, plants, trees, and insects that need the river…making a diversion could help at moments, but in the long run it wouldn’t have been worth it.”
The thoughts and opinions of this youth group on the Gila River echo that of the state as a whole. A recent 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.
“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?”
A brief video story of the trip is also available for viewing on YouTube at http://youtu.be/rxlxEJUQSSY.