Guest commentary: Protecting natural resources, public lands important for all our communities
As COVID-19 continues affecting our lives, I’ve been reflecting on how grateful I am for our public lands, places my family and I can safely go to exercise, get some fresh air or just sit and enjoy the beauty that surrounds us. All of us who live in western Colorado are fortunate to have an abundance of access to open space, great trails and shared lands.
For many, being out among the trees, streams and mountains can be a place to find peace, improve our mental health and reduce anxiety. I’ve also been impressed that so many in our community have been considering the impact of their recreation and how their actions might affect the health of others and the capacity of health care systems in rural communities.
Our work at Wilderness Workshop to protect public lands continues, and is more important now than ever. While so many folks are rightly focused on dealing with the impacts of a global pandemic, the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce environmental protections, abandon efforts at enforcement and develop public lands goes on full speed.
Just this week in fact, Donald Trump announced changes to how the National Environmental Policy Act is implemented that will have devastating effects on public lands, minority communities and our climate. Rather than supporting the most vulnerable communities, the Trump administration is providing bailouts for the fossil fuel industry in the name of COVID-19 relief. These include direct financial assistance, relaxing regulations that protect the public interest and opening large amounts of public land to oil and gas extraction, which is happening just over McClure Pass in the North Fork Valley. Environmental issues may feel less important with more than 3 million COVID-19 cases in the country and an unemployment rate well over 10%, but we also shouldn’t forget our planet in this time of crisis.
On top of these very important environmental concerns, as a Latina I want to acknowledge, I feel the disproportionate effects that COVID-19 is having on minority, low-income, undocumented, brown, indigenous and Black communities. And this is occurring not only nationally, but we feel it locally as well. We can’t afford to ignore that climate change and environmental racism will have similar disproportionate effects on these same communities and we will be bearing the brunt of the global disasters like the pandemic and other natural disasters.
To that end, Wilderness Workshop through our Defiende Nuestra Tierra program, is participating in Latino Conservation Week, which is Saturday to July 26. Our goal is to encourage Latinos to get into the outdoors and elevate their voices and stories to continue to protect our natural resources and public lands.
Participating in Latino Conservation Week is part of that, and we’ll be kicking it off with a small 10-person hike and picnic in Grizzly Creek. Because of COVID-19, more events are not possible, but we will be engaging Latinos to virtually share their stories of appreciating, and recreating on, public lands. Please join our mailing list to stay informed.
These public lands belong to all of us. Once we have visited and enjoyed these places, we know we must act to protect these lands, the air and water for future generations.
Beatriz Soto is the director of Defiende Nuestra Tierra at Wilderness Workshop and is co-founder of Voces Unidas. She immigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico, and is a Basalt High School graduate. She works in the valley to bring our diverse communities together and be a liaison for unity and growth.