This article was originally published in High Country News.
Paul Larmer | June 27, 2016 | From the print edition
A couple of weeks after a dozen or so well-armed white men and women occupied Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, announcing that they were there to help the locals “claim back their lands and resources” from the federal government, I began to wonder: Where were all the folks on the other side — the public-lands patriots — the people who say they cherish our country’s rare birthright of a vast landscape, accessible to all Americans, no matter where they live?
So I emailed several conservation leaders, asking them whether they were going to the refuge to protest the protesters. “It might be best if everybody just lets the locals keep the pressure on these guys, or if the press pays a little less attention to them,” one replied, adding, “I think they are doing much harm to their already discredited anti-public lands cause.”
Perhaps the eclectic gathering at the refuge did harm that cause; the drumbeat to transfer federally managed lands to states seems to sound a little less forceful these days. But their actions, and the lack of a coordinated response from the outdoor and conservation community, raised an unsettling question: Who will nurture and lead a new generation, one that’s more diverse and more urban, to defend the West’s environment and lands?
The good news, as we demonstrate in this special issue, is that new people are taking up the challenge. And though they share much in common with the activists of the past, many look quite different, and have taken very different paths to the cause. I met Glenn Nelson, the Japanese American writer of our cover essay, at a conference in Jackson, Wyoming, last fall, well before the Oregon occupation, but shortly after he launched trailposse.com, a website dedicated to “diversifying by demystifying the outdoors.” In the months since, High Country News has formed a partnership with him, co-publishing stories and essays by Nelson and other writers of color.
Nelson’s own complex story of connecting to both his racial identity and the outdoors demonstrates that it’s high time for a movement dominated for the past century by Anglos to reach out to and share power with a rapidly changing demographic. So, too, does his profile of Latino Outdoors, a group that, with lightning speed, has tapped into the Latino community’s deep well of passion for the outdoors. I recently met one of the group’s educators, Raquel Rangel, whom we profiled on hcn.org last year. She takes people from California’s Central Valley to nearby state parks and relishes their growing connection to the public lands. “The greatest fulfillment comes when someone says, ‘Thank you for bringing me to your park,’ Rangel says. “I say, ‘It’s not my park — it’s your park, too.’ ”
That’s a message the whole country needs to hear, whether it’s trumpeted from an urban park in California or a remote wildlife refuge in Oregon.