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EcoFlight’s Flight Across America Student Program Begins Today

November 4, 2013 by  

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EcoFlight’s Flight Across America Student Program

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


Latino Religious Leaders Form New Alliance for Environmental Protection

October 16, 2013 by  

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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  

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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

Defenders of the Colorado River Score Crucial Victory in Their Preservation Efforts

November 19, 2012 by  

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Latino Groups Commend Decision By Interior Secretary to Restrict Oil Shale Operations and Protect Colorado’s Water Supply

photo coutesy BLM

Clean water and healthier communities scored a crucial victory in Colorado on November 9, when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar decided to protect the state from oil shale speculation.

On Nov. 9, the Department of the Interior released a plan that would require oil shale companies to provide solid proof that their activities will balance the state’s economic and environmental needs before starting any commercial exploitation. Reversing a Bush-era decision that would have given industry free reign on 2 million acres of public lands, BLM’s plan effectively protects 1.6 million acres of public land, as well as areas of critical wildlife habitat.

Latino organizations, including the Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF) and Nuestro Río, welcomed the Salazar decision and reminded the public about the Latino community’s overwhelming support for protection of public lands and the safety and reliability of their water supply.

“We needed a smart approach to oil shale development and Secretary Salazar deserves credit for making this a priority for Colorado, and for the state’s Latinos, which make up a significant portion of the state’s population and depend on the Colorado River and water supplies for their quality of life and economic opportunity,” said Maite Arce, executive director of HAF. “Costly, water-hungry oil shale speculation would put Western families’ health and safety at risk.”

According to a recent Sierra Club national survey conducted in cooperation with NCLR, more than nine in 10 (92%) Latino voters agree that they “have a moral responsibility to take care of God’s creation on this earth —the wilderness, the forests, the oceans, lakes and rivers.”

Also, the survey found that nearly seven in 10 (69%) Latino voters support presidential designations of more public land as national monuments.

“The Colorado River doesn’t just run through the Southwest, it runs through our culture and it nourishes our lives,” said Andrés Ramírez, Director at Nuestro Río. “Saving the Colorado River is about protecting our Latino heritage and promoting our future.”

Indeed, a survey by Colorado College conducted in Western states earlier this year revealed that 87 percent of Hispanics believe we can protect the environment at the same time we work for a strong economy.

In addition, the poll found that 89 percent of Hispanic respondents agreed that resources must be invested in preserving their state’s land, water and wildlife, regardless of the current budgetary crisis.

Estimates by the Government Accountability Office have projected that full-scale oil shale development could require more than 123 billion gallons of water each year, enough water for more than 750,000 households. Additionally, the mining and processing of oil shale can leach toxic metals and pollutants, such as lead and arsenic, into rivers and groundwater. BLM’s plan takes a step in the right direction by limiting the amount of public land that could be subjected to oil shale development. Rather than promoting high-risk, high-cost technologies like oil shale, we need to begin the transition to clean, efficient fuels that benefit both our economy and our land, water, and public health.

- By Javier Sierra

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The Most Valuable Gift, Naturally

October 17, 2012 by  

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By Javier Sierra

The most valuable gift we can give our children and grandchildren does not come with a price tag. Its value is so hard to calculate, we would run out of zeros to determine it.

 An entire generation offers this legacy, from the richest to the poorest. It’s called Nature (with capital n), the synonym of life, health and happiness. And all —young and old— must be aware of its vital importance.

 And that’s precisely what 60 Latino kids did this summer during a weekend at Browns Canyon, CO: explore and enjoy one of the most beautiful places in the great American West.

Organized and funded by Hispanic Access Foundation and Environmental Learning for Kids, the outing included camping overnight and white-water rafting on the Arkansas River.

“It was so exciting,” says Jennie Hurrieta, a Denver high school senior who took the trip down Class 3 rapids along with several friends. “First, I was very scared, but now I’m happy that I did it. Now I love white-water rafting.”

“The trip down was my favorite moment,” says Itzel Saenz, an 18-year-old student at Red Rocks Community College in Denver. “I had never done it before. I also enjoyed how to set up a tent.”

The students and their families enjoyed this experience surrounded by amazing biodiversity and natural beauty. Being in contact with the outdoors and spending the night with only the stars as your roof sooth the spirit and cleanse the soul.

In fact, students who get in touch with nature do better in school. According to a California state survey conducted among mostly Latino students, outdoors education programs increase math and science scores by 27 percent.

Indeed, study after study confirms that outdoors experiences are particularly close to the heart of the Latino community.

According to a Colorado College conducted in Western states, 75 percent of Latinos favor the establishment of more national parks and national monuments. Also, 78 percent agreed we can build a robust economy at the same time we protect nature.

 Moreover, a national Latino poll conducted by the Sierra Club and NCLR revealed that 92 percent of us agree that protecting God’s Creation is a moral responsibility.

“We take the mountains for granted because they are always there,” says Jennie. “But we never really realize how beautiful they are until we go out there and experience it up close and personal.”

But so much beauty could not always be there. Browns Canyon is threatened on several fronts. The construction of roads and other infrastructure has increased erosion an, the bald eagle, the mountain lion and many more.d destroyed some vital areas of this ecosystem. Also, this pressure has endangered several species, such as the peregrine falcon.

This degradation is having consequences for communities close to the canyon as they are experiencing draught because of the lower levels of underground water.

“We learned a lot about water and the scarcity of it,” says Itzel. “The main priority right now is to save water. We also were told to be very careful with fires, never to start a fire near a tree.”

Browns Canyon and so many other natural wonders could disappear unless we all contribute to their preservation. The students learned that President Obama has the power to make sure this legacy will be enjoyed by future generations by designating them as national monuments.

And this month, several participants, including Jennie and Itzel, traveled to Washington, DC, and visited the White House to promote the natural treasures that belong to us all. And happily, their visit coincided with the designation of another gorgeous Colorado place, Chimney Canyon, as a national monument.

The reward is indeed priceless.

Javier Sierra writes about national Latino issues.
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