We are home to the new Sand to Snow, Mojave Trails and Castle Mountains national monuments as well as the iconic Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks and the Mojave National Preserve. These special places offer spiritual refuge, help improve the health of our community, and contribute significantly to our economy.
All must be engaged to protect these special places. That’s why I’ve joined a new coalition of civil rights groups, environmental justice, and community organizations calling for President Barack Obama to embrace a vision that focuses on the importance of national parks and public lands for all people. We’re asking the president to issue a Presidential Memorandum on Aug. 25 – the centennial of the National Park Service – that would move us toward this vision.
Currently, our public lands are not reflective of our demographic and ethnic diversity, especially as our country continues to change at a rapid pace. By 2020, half of youth in America will be of color. The Census Bureau predicts that by 2043, a majority of our country’s residents will be people of color. Yet recent research showed that 73 percent of Americans who participated in outdoor activities were white.
Without support of all of us, we are at risk of losing the historic, cultural, natural, spiritual, economic and recreational resources that our public lands provide. We are also missing opportunities to conserve new places for future generations.
President Obama has shown great leadership by protecting many new national monuments, including several which conserve Native American, Latino, African American, Asian American and women’s history. In California, he protected César Chávez, San Gabriel Mountains, and Fort Ord national monuments, expanded the California Coastal National Monument, as well as three desert monuments.
The president's memorandum should emphasize the need for the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture to adopt the following principles for an inclusive approach to conservation:
First, public lands must reflect the demographic and ethnic diversity of our nation’s people among visitors, the agencies’ workforces, and in the designation of new units.
Second, public lands play a unique role in capturing the many different stories that have shaped this country. We must make sure that the full range of these stories is being told at existing park sites and other public lands.
Third, we must actively and authentically engage a diverse range of communities in new and meaningful ways to build support for our public lands and shape the direction of our nation’s conservation policies.
We have an opportunity to recommit to protecting our country’s national parks and public lands through a system that engages, reflects and honors our nation’s people. By doing so, America’s rich and varied culture will shine through in our national parks and public lands for another 100 years.