Science as a Tool for Connecting Latino Youth to Nature ~Andres Esparza~

As I sit here at my desk in Colorado, back from a Summer spent teaching in Yosemite, I’m left staring at a map on the wall in front of me. It is a topographic map of Yosemite Valley, a place that I called home for the past 7 years. While this map is only a 2 dimensional representation of a Valley full of waterfalls, wildlife, meadows, soaring Granite cliffs and the Merced River; it is still a reminder of why I love this place and others like and how much they mean to all of us. It also serves a reminder that this place, like so many others like it, exists for ALL of us. The lessons learned and memories forged in these natural wonders transcend any ethnic boundaries and instead unite us in our love and appreciation of our public lands.

I have been fortunate to have worked in Yosemite National Park since Fall 2008. During that time, I worked for NatureBridge (then Yosemite Institute) as an environmental educator connecting students to their public lands. I was able to teach them ecology through hands on experiences in the river, forests and meadows, teach them about leadership and self-reliance, bolster their self-confidence and create meaningful and long lasting connection to their public lands in an effort to create a sense of stewardship and appreciation of the natural world.

One special program I was able to take part in this past Summer was called the Field Research Course (FRC). It is a 2 week experience for high school students from all over the country who show an interest in the sciences and public lands and are interested in pushing themselves out of their comfort zones. Students arrive on a Sunday and spend the first 3 days at our Crane Flat campus getting to know one another, learning about the scientific process and what it means for park management, and getting geared up for 9 days of backpacking! When we finally depart for the backpacking portion of the FRC, students spend the first 2 days learning how to backpack which means setting up tents, sleeping outside, cooking on a small backpacking stove, reading maps and so many other things. After the initial couple days of madness, things settle down and we get to start exploring our true purpose out there. While out backpacking, students are expected make observations and come up with testable hypothesis about the natural environmental around them. The rest of the expedition is spent collecting data based on their questions and starting to think about what it all means. Finally, we all return to the Crane Flat campus and students compile and analyze their data and create presentations of their scientific findings for fellow students, staff, park employees, friends and family.

One of the FRC students investigating the relationship between macroinvertbrates and decomposing trees.

One of the FRC students investigating the relationship between macroinvertbrates and decomposing trees.

The reason I go into so much detail about this particular program is because it is one of many new and innovative programs popping up all around the country aimed at creating meaningful and long lasting connections between our youth and our public lands. As our county’s demographics change, so does our understanding and expectations of our nation’s public lands. It is up to us to keep pace with this change.

Gone are the days of public lands existing outside of the everyday lives of those living in the city. Now, more than ever, we are being bombarded by messages of public land sell-off’s, toxic mining spills into rivers and political battles over how to best use public lands. We have entered into a new era of conservation, one that goes beyond the Muir vs. Pinchot battle of Preservation vs. Conservation, and instead should be called the era of “Complexity Awareness”. It is an era in which we must take into account all the complexities of living in an intimately linked society and all the effects we have on the “downstream”.

As we move into a world where our everyday action have more and more impact on the natural world, how do we more forward in a sustainable manner?

That is the job of the next generation. They will be the ones who make laws that protect our natural resources, promote sustainable living infrastructures and create a better ecological future for everyone. However it is up to us to give them the support and guidance necessary to make that change.

One of the FRC students enjoying the High Country of Yosemite N.P. on the expedition.

One of the FRC students enjoying the High Country of Yosemite N.P. on the expedition.

I was lucky enough to have a very diverse group of young adults on my FRC trips this Summer. It was through the excitement and passion these diverse young adults that I was assured that the future is in the right hands. These students, who came from a variety of cultural backgrounds, were all here to learn about the Yosemite ecosystem, how science can inform management practices and ultimately, how they can exist in harmony with these and other natural treasures.

According to the US census, in 2050, Hispanics will account for 30% of the US populations. As a member of a group that will account for a third of the US population within my lifetime, I am hopeful that we, as a community, will pass on to our youth a love and appreciation of our natural world. I urge you all to share those special places you hold near and dear with someone close to you. That way, we, as Latinos, will share a legacy of love and appreciation for the land.


-Latino Outdoors Ambassador

Andres Esparza

Western Slope Colorado Region

One comment on “Science as a Tool for Connecting Latino Youth to Nature ~Andres Esparza~

  1. Cynthia Reply

    Great job Andres!!

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