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Latino Conservation Week and mobilizing our communities

Last week marked Latino Conservation Week and Latino communities across the country have cause to celebrate our growing voice in the environmental and conservation movement. The trend of Latino activism and leadership on climate change and conservation is rapidly growing across the nation. I know this because my program Chispa in Arizona is part of that upward trend. This year, in Phoenix, Chispa led 380 volunteers to urge local utilities and the government to commit to increased electricity generation from solar and wind powered sources. And for the public hearing for the Salt River Project’s plan to hike rates, we helped turn out 700 community members to present testimony in support of clean and renewable energy.

These are just some of the specific examples of how Latino communities are mobilizing for environmental issues across the country. But we don’t just want to keep our air clean; we also want to be able to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. Latinos are a strong voice in the conservation world. Last summer, a poll showed that an overwhelming 93% of Latinos in Colorado and New Mexico believe that the government should protect public lands for recreation and the overall well-being of the environment. But Latinos don’t just believe in protecting special places; they’re also bringing their wallets to the table. In 2014, 88% of Latinos contributed to the booming outdoor recreation economy by purchasing equipment for outdoor activities like camping, hiking, and fishing. It’s clear that with Latino communities across the country making up one of the fastest growing population segments, we need to make sure that our growing voice for conservation and the environment is heard.

Never has our voice been more critical than now, when America’s conservation legacy is at risk. On September 30th, after 50 years of overwhelming success, America’s best parks program—the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)—will expire. This federal program has helped increase access to open spaces in nearly every county across the nation, supporting everything from national park expansions to local parks and ball fields. Here in Arizona, LWCF has helped protect some of our most special places to escape the summer heat like Oak Creek Canyon and the Verde River recreation areas to the Grand Canyon National Park. If it disappears, the ability of future generations to get outside and away from their TV screens could be diminished. The great thing about this program is that it doesn’t use taxpayer money. Instead, every year LWCF receives $900 million from offshore oil and gas revenues that is then put into a fund at the U.S. Treasury to invest in parks across the country.

With less than 75 days until this critical parks program will expire, we need our elected representatives to support legislation that would reauthorize LWCF and provide it the full funding it richly deserves. And we’re looking to Republican leaders to stop blocking these bipartisan pro-parks bills. Luckily, our own Representative Raúl Grijalva is leading a bipartisan effort in the House of Representatives to permanently extend this critical conservation and parks program. A similar bipartisan bill exists in the Senate, but regrettably our Airzona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake are failing to recognize the importance of parks to Arizonans. With the clock quickly running out, we hope that Senators McCain and Flake along with Republican leaders in Washington can either join the growing bipartisan support for LWCF or stop blocking action that benefits all Arizonans and helps expand outdoor access across the country. That would be good for Latinos and others here in Arizona and around the country. Take action today and tell your members of Congress to reauthorize the LWCF »

Pedro Lopez is Program Director of Chispa: For a Cleaner Future in Arizona, a program of the League of Conservation Voters

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