Public lands should be challenged with equity of access for all

BY MICHAEL J. BEAN AND JOSÉ GONZÁLEZ, OPINION CONTRIBUTORS –

This article was  originally published in The Hill

Public lands should be challenged with equity of access for all

Throughout history, our public lands — including national parks, forests, monuments and other areas – have played an important role as part of America’s identity. The word public is meant to stress the idea of accessibility and connection to all the people of this country.

Unfortunately, these lands have not always been reflective of our country’s demographic and ethnic diversity and there are many communities in the U.S. for whom the term public does not resonate in the same vein.

This disconnect is becoming more apparent as the face of our country continues to change at a rapid pace and its consequences more urgent because the future of our public lands will depend upon public support from ever more diverse communities.

If we are to hold true to the idea that public lands are truly for all Americans, then we must expand what that idea means for the many different cultures and communities that make up America today. We need to explore what the ideas of wilderness, protected spaces, national parks and open spaces mean to diverse communities?

What do they mean to young people living in Compton who face the daily reality of growing up in an economically disadvantaged community? What do they mean to the Mixtec migrant family working the fields of the California Central Valley, or to the Islamic community in Dearborn, Michigan? What do they mean to the Gwich’in people of Alaska and the Lakota of the Dakotas who have ancestral ties to the land? The Gullah Gullah people of the Carolinas? What about the communities of Japanese ancestry in the Northwest and the Tijuana colonias along the US-Mexico border?

There are those that say our public lands are there for anyone that wants to access them. That misses the point. This is not a simple matter of equality of access — it is a challenge with equity of access.

Our public lands are meant both to provide a diversity of open spaces for recreational activities and to preserve and share the cultural heritage and story of this nation. As such, our public lands need to be a tapestry woven of the many strands that represent the diversity of this country. In them we should not only see natural and historical monuments, the grandeur of the outdoors and the history of our nation — we should also clearly see ourselves.

We must expand the diversity of the people who visit and work in America’s national parks, monuments and other public lands to reflect the faces of our nation. We must continue to increase the diversity of the sites protected and stories told to enable the public to connect to their public lands – be it for health, spiritual, economic or cultural benefits.

This is the task before us. We have had Manzanar National Historic Site, Timuacan Ecological & Historic Preserve, Bandelier National Monument, and other such sites. To that we have added places like Cesar Chavez National Monument, Stonewall National Monument and many more.

The opportunity is to expand beyond these, so that no matter if it is in the open spaces of Wyoming or the urban environment of Chicago, communities of all backgrounds see themselves as belonging there and see how the system of public lands is connected to tell the stories of all Americans.

These values of inclusion are shared across party lines and President-elect Donald Trump has expressed his commitment to keeping public lands in public hands and to serving as great stewards of this land. If President-elect Trump and the new members of Congress continue the work of making all people feel welcome in our public lands, the goal of united Americans will be furthered. Together we can make sure that our public lands in the next 100 years enjoy care, protection, and support by an American public that sees itself respected, reflected, and included in them.

Michael J. Bean is Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of the Interior. He is the author of The Evolution of National Wildlife Law, generally considered to be the definitive text on the subject of wildlife conservation law in the United States. José González is the Founder/Director of Latino Outdoors, a Latino-led network of leaders committed to engaging Latinos/as in the outdoors, and connecting families and youth with nature.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.


Why We Need a National Monument Designation

By Miché Lozano

 

My first visit to the Canyon 18 years old

When I turned 18 years old I asked my family to take me to the Grand Canyon for the first time. I had always wanted to visit, but despite living in the same state as the Grand Canyon, traveling was an expense that my family could rarely afford. Until my first visit to the canyon that year, I had never truly understood the meaning of the word vast. I fell in love with the depth and the beauty of the canyon. The Earth’s rough history is exposed in the layers of geologic time for all to marvel at. I swore to myself that I’d return. Since then, I’ve hiked around the canyon numerous times and I love taking people there for their first times as well. This fall, Ecoflight gave me the opportunity to fly over the Grand Canyon in a small aircraft and to see the canyon from an entirely new perspective.

EcoFlight educates and advocates for the protection of remaining wild lands and wildlife habitat through experiential learning, which utilizes small aircraft to immerse people in the world of conservation. I was asked to be a part of their program, to speak on behalf of Latino Outdoors and share stories of my personal experiences with Latino Outdoors.

My goal was to help the students understand how different people experience the outdoors and how to include more perspectives, making space for folks from different backgrounds in conservation work. My colleague, Sarah Ponticello was also involved in the program; she was advocating on behalf of the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument (GGCHNM), which will protect the canyon’s currently unprotected lands for future generations to enjoy. Sarana Riggs from the Grand Canyon Trust and Jason Nez, a National Park Service archeologist, spoke to the group about the movement: Save the Confluence. Both Sarana and Jason are Diné (Navajo) and they provided their perspectives of the dilemmas that proposed construction of a tram and tourist resort at the sacred site would cause.

The Confluence is the sacred site where the bright blue waters of the Little Colorado River meet the Colorado River. The Navajo and Hopi have origin stories tied to the Confluence, they are deeply connected to what this place represents to them spiritually.

Although each of us had different agendas and prioritized some of the countless issues impacting the Grand Canyon in different ways, we all understand that this place is in need of protection. Having a National Monument designation added to this natural wonder is essential to the protection of its precious natural and cultural resources.

To be completely honest, flying over the Grand Canyon was never on my bucket list because it just seemed so unattainable. It’s one of those touristy things only rich people do, right? I try to make a conscious effort not to be elitist or resentful when I see other people enjoying the same things I enjoy. But I’ll be heading in on the Kaibab trail with a backpack ready to go hike the canyon for a few hours, then I’ll see all the people standing on the rim taking selfies and think to myself you’re not going in? You’re just gonna take photos of yourself? Really? Aggressively rolling my eyes.

I guess I like to think that experiencing the harshness of the canyon has altered the way I like to experience it: the perpetually dry heat, the spiny plants with their flowery secrets, and long hours of hiking and getting to know my friends while enveloped in the canyon’s embrace. Experiencing the canyon’s harsh features, venturing through its rugged terrain, builds character and I really like that. I did the “tourist” thing when I was 18 and visited for the first time. I just took pictures at the rim and wandered down a few switchbacks, that was it. It was beautiful and I remember enjoying it, but nowhere near the extent to which I appreciate it now. I wonder if those people on the rim get out much, I wonder if taking pictures on the rim is the most time they’ll spend outdoors. Now, everyone’s experience is different and I bet we all think that our way is the best way to experience the outdoors, until we try something new.

So there I am. I’m sitting in the cockpit of a small aircraft – taking selfies – and we’re taking off to fly over the Grand Canyon and I don’t know if I want to throw up from the sheer excitement or from the nausea that comes from flying.
We flew over the Kaibab National Forest that surrounds the Grand Canyon and I watched the tall ponderosa pines that blanket the landscape slowly blurring into a sea of green. There was no reference point for perspective, you just have to take it all in and it’s incredible. The Grand Canyon is BIG. I mean it’s really, really BIG. I was literally flying over it and I still couldn’t see all of it. I thought I knew the meaning of Vast from my first visit to the canyon, but this was different, an entirely new feeling, once again I was immersed in an overwhelming sense of wonder. 

To a regular tourist who is not from the area or involved with all the political turmoil that surrounds the canyon, this view is breathtaking. But for people like myself and the other activists who were involved in EcoFlight’s program, I think this flight was something truly special. There it was. Everything that we want to protect, everything we are fighting for through policies, conferences, and petitions. The history of the Earth exposed by the famous Colorado River that sliced its way through the layers of ancient rock, allowing us to read into our past. The ancestral lands of the many indigenous people like the Navajo whose identities are deeply woven into that land. All of it, from a Condors’ eye view. The following photograph stirs a lot of emotions within me. Just south of the Grand Canyon (which is out of view) is a Uranium mine under the shadow of a sacred site known as Red Butte, on the horizon is the San Francisco Peaks mountain range (another sacred site); home to the highest point in Arizona just north of Flagstaff.

Two sacred sites and a uranium mine all in the same photo

 

The eye-sore you see here is a uranium mine.

 

The Navajo and Hopi are their own sovereign nations, but that hasn’t stopped the historical abuse of their land. Our own government has painfully often prioritized resource extraction on Navajo and Hopi land—adding to the history of broken promises since the first treaties were signed.It also reinforced the different perspectives the government and tribal communities had in regards to land. A sacred site is disregarded for its economic value as an extractable resource. . The same uranium used to fuel the cold war and generate energy for our society inflicted tremendous cultural loss and suffering on the people of the Navajo and Hopi nations for generations. The number of threats from uranium mining claims that could be validated in the near future is staggering, including jeopardizing the water source for over 30 million people who rely on the Colorado River and indigenous groups will likely suffer the worst of those repercussions. It’s scary stuff.

I won’t go too into detail about the history of mining activities and the environmental racism that has occurred and is still happening, but I will say that contemporary relationships between natural resource agencies and indigenous groups are sometimes strained because of that painful history. Luckily, I think times are changing and people are looking at the past with disdain and feeling hopeful about moving forward into a future of improved relationships with both the land and its indigenous people.

With the breath-taking view of Grand Canyon behind me, I spoke to the group of students in EcoFlight’s program about Latino Outdoors and our collective efforts to create opportunities for Latinx communities to access the outdoors and re-connect our culture with the land. I enjoy public speaking, but I was really intrigued by the curiosity and passion the students demonstrated during their experience. I also learned so much information I never knew from the other speakers, like the issues revolving around the Confluence and all the hope people were putting behind the national monument proposal.

Sarah Ponticello speaking to the students from EcoFlight about the GGCHNM

If the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument comes into fruition it will:

  1. Permanently protect 1.7 million acres of land that surround Grand Canyon National Park from new uranium mining.
  2. Permanently protect the entire Grand Canyon, its rich cultural and ecological heritage, archaeological sites, and waters sacred to Native American communities throughout the region.

Flying over the Canyon was most likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. I got to see the confluence for the first time and my understanding of the word vast was rejuvenated with a healthy dose of amazement. Let’s say I do get a second chance to fly over the canyon, I would definitely go for it!

I would just hate to fly over the Grand Canyon and see it peppered with mining operations and obnoxious tourist attractions that have total disregard for the validity of Native American culture and their sacred sites. I think the intrinsic value of the Grand Canyon is much too important to allow such desecration.

 


Georgina Miranda on Choosing Adventure

Banff, Canada. Happiest outside and visiting a part of Canada that was high on my bucket list.

My story…slowly but surely there is more comfort in telling it. I’ve had more joy in wild places, living in a tent for weeks/months at a time, being cold, having trouble breathing, and being stripped from modern day comforts- than within my city comforts. It’s here, without distractions, and without competition, but the one with myself that I connect to a part of myself that can easily get lost in the day to day.

When I think of fuel, fuel to go after dreams, I always think of my time on big mountains. It’s our inner fuel, fire, grit that keeps us going, that gives us the endurance that releases the smiles, even in times of suffering and discomfort. These mountains have taught me so much; they’ve helped me reveal to myself how strong I can be. They’ve taught me focus. They’ve taught me to block out noise. They’ve validated I do not fit in a box and that I do not need to conform to who I “should be”, but rather encouraged me to “just be.”

These experiences have redefined my reality-the girl that couldn’t run a mile 8 years ago can climb hella big mountains now and ski! Yes, I said hella 🙂 Here I stand today having climbed in 6 of the 7 continents and aiming to complete the Explorer Grand Slam by then end of 2017, a feat that approximately only 50 people have completed globally (7 summits and skiing the last degree of the North and South Pole).

Backcountry skiing in Tahoe, thrill seeking smiles!

I’m your unlikely mountaineer and athlete, but that’s been the best part of the journey. Doing things that are unlikely is part of the fun of the adventure and personal growth.

I grew up in LA and was brought up a “city girl” by my Nicaraguan mother and El Salvadorian father. I am the first in my immediate family to not only graduate from college, but also get a master’s degree. I was taught education was my ticket to a different life, not mountains and nature. In reality both were critical to my ticket to a different life. While I am super grateful that I got my “adventure” side from my dad, “adventure” was not a priority or something that was necessarily encouraged growing up.  It somehow always seemed to find me though, more so in my mid-twenties, thank goodness for that!

I often say adventure changes lives; and, I truly believe it, because it changed mine. I have climbed a lot of other “mountains” in my lifetime, from growing up with a manic depressive mother, surviving a painful divorce, breaking trail in the tech and outdoor industry, and climbing the biggest mountain of all: starting a company. In choosing adventure, I was able to heal from a lot of these experiences and also developed this awesome grit to power through the toughest of challenges in life. My prescription to the blues is a nature dose, which is far better than any antidepressant hands down!

It’s all of these factors that ultimately inspired me to start Altitude Seven, an adventure lifestyle media platform that helps a global community of women adventurers and travelers discover the best outdoor and adventure travel products, experiences, stories, and inspiration all in one place. The company’s brand was created for a new generation of outdoor, adventurous, and globetrotting women, with a mission: To Inspire and Equip Women to Live Adventurous, Bold, and Worldly Lives. It is spreading the global message for women to #ChooseAdventure. Inspiration struck atop of Denali in 2010 and the first iteration of Altitude Seven came to life in 2014.

Mt. Everest 2013 charity climb for International Medical Corps and raising awareness against gender-based violence. It had taken me 6 years to get to this point after a failed attempt in 2011 having to turn around due to hypoxia. Dreams come true if you never give up on them.

While the “shrink it and pink it” struggle is real in the outdoor industry (don’t worry, none of that in our store), there is a bigger issue, which is that the current “face of adventure” is not a true representation of all us badass ladies getting after it out there globally. Guess what? Women make up 50% of outdoor recreation participation and leading the way in terms of solo travel. Yet we still lack visibility across most media channels. When it comes to women of color and diverse body types, our representation is basically invisible. We are changing the face of adventure and committed to elevating the presence and visibility of women in adventure/action sports/travel media.

It’s been a crazy 8 years and my life has done a 180 in more ways than one. I am so grateful to discovering a love for adventure and setting new limits for myself beyond anything I “should have ever been.” It’s my mission now to share that gift with others.

 

“I climb big mountains everyday, just not always in crampons. Changing the face of adventure and tech has been the biggest climb of all!”

Georgina is the Founder of Altitude Seven, an adventure lifestyle media platform that helps a global community of women adventurers and travelers discover the best outdoor and adventure travel products, experiences, stories, and inspiration all in one place. She is a purpose driven entrepreneur, adventurer, speaker, and consultant. She has scaled the highest peak on 6 of the 7 continents and aiming to complete the Explorer Grand Slam in 2017. She’s an advocate for empowering women globally and loves pushing past personal limits and inspiring others to do the same. To learn more about Miranda, visit: GeorginaMiranda.com