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.

 


My Park is Yosemite

#MyParkIsYosemite

77_9667955724_8237_n

My first time hiking Half Dome.

Yosemite National Park is certainly a special place, both in its physical beauty and grandeur but as well as in the imagination and mind of what we envision as majestic national parks. It is embedded in the mythology of the National Park Service with a rich history that includes the Buffalo soldiers, John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt, and of course its role in being a precursor to the National Park Service by being protected by Abraham Lincoln in 1864 before the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872.  Yosemite is also special in that it is a world-class destination so close to so many communities in the Central Valley of California and yet not many in those communities may always easily access it.

20130426_114601

CA Mini-Corps Outdoor Education Program Instructors training in Yosemite to provide outdoor education to Migrant students throughout CA.

Growing up in the Central Valley I would often hear about Yosemite, but it would be years before I would really get to discover its beauty. I recall as a college student finally entering the Yosemite Valley on a morning with light fog and emergent sunlight. It was magical. I would return to explore Tuolumne Meadows and Lambert Dome. Later, with a group of friends we scaled Half Dome, and returned several times to repeat that experience. Whether it was walking Mariposa Grove with park rangers as we trained Latino college students to be outdoor instructors for migrant students, or simply hiking the Panoramic trail with friends, Yosemite kept providing a diversity of experiences. It is that diversity that presents an opportunity—to welcome a diversity of the American public, from near and afar, to enjoy a diversity of experiences within the park.

20130426_102159

 

It is important to me, as a Latinx immigrant, a US Citizen, an English-Language Learner, and the first in my family to go to college, to be a role model of how our parks are for all—and the work we need to continue to advance in true inclusivity. I strive to exemplify how my cultura is important to me in these spaces, and how we create more inclusive environments to welcome all regardless of background. Yosemite welcomed me in its grandeur, and as a Yosemite Centennial Ambassador, I want to extend that invitation to others. We much to do but we also have much to celebrate, and regardless we start somewhere. Since that first time I wandered into Yosemite Valley, I have visited many other national parks and public lands and yet in many ways My Park Is Yosemite. It does not have to be yours or it can be, so long as you can see and feel yourself reflected in such a place.

20130918_120516

En este año que celebramos el centenario de nuestros parques nacionales,  vengan, encuentren su parque, están bienvenidos, es mi placer ser su embajador y guía.

This post is part of the #MyParkIsYosemite campaign. If your park is also Yosemite, join us! If you want to express your love for other parks or other public lands share that too! #Next100 #PublicLandsForAll #EncuentraTuParque

 20130918_140951

José González is the Founder of Latino Outdoors. He is a Yosemite Centennial Ambassador and represents Latino Outdoors in several coalitions including the Latino Conservation Alliance and the Next 100 Coalition. He also serves on a National Park Service advisory committee and has been recognized with several honors, including the National Wildlife Federation, Grist Magazine, and The Murie Center.

To learn more about the Next 100 Coalition, check out this site and sign the petition.