Access to nature’s beauty is a right all should enjoy

A curved pedestrian footpath and open space adjacent to housing units. (Photo: Tarnet VIC 3029, via Shutterstock)

Over the last year, Americans have become very aware of the importance of spending time in nature. With health, economic, and family stress at an all time high for many, a walk around the block or time in a park became an important way to find solace and calm.

But not everyone in California has a neighborhood with safe places to walk or a park around the corner. There are deep inequities in access to nature in our country – a fact that has become even more glaringly obvious during the pandemic.

There is more work to do to ensure Latinos can access open space close to home.

That’s why, each July, we bring together tens of thousands of Latinos virtually (and in-person, where safe to do so) in honor of Latino Conservation Week. This is a nationwide, week-long event during which Latinos lead conservation projects, enjoy recreating on public lands, host community discussions and film screenings, and more.

We connect more Latinos to their public lands and waters and celebrate our community members’ tireless efforts to advocate for the outdoors. 

But there is more work to do to ensure Latinos can access open space close to home.

I helped author a report last year that looked at racial and economic disparities in nature — or what is sometimes referred to as the “Nature Gap.” We found that in California, Latinos and other people of color are two times more likely to be deprived of nearby nature than white people.

What does it mean to be nature deprived? It means not having a place for your kids to safely play outside. It means breathing polluted air and being more likely to suffer from respiratory diseases.

President Biden took an important first step to increase access to the outdoors this year when he committed to protecting 30% of federal lands and waters in the United States by 2030. “30×30” is an ambitious and visionary goal that will help slow the loss of nature, mitigate the impacts of climate change, and ensure all Americans — no matter their economic status, race, or ethnicity — have access to nature.

California committed to the 30×30 benchmark last year and we have the opportunity to lead the way towards this ambitious target.

Achieving 30×30 will help us both tackle the climate crisis and address the stark disparities of who has access to the outdoors in our state and country. I applaud President Biden for his leadership.

Now, we must turn to how 30×30 is reached.

The state of California committed to the same 30×30 benchmark last year and we have the opportunity to lead the way towards this ambitious target. California Sens. Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein recently introduced the PUBLIC Lands Act, legislation that would protect and increase access to more than one million acres of public lands and well over 500 miles of rivers in California, including in the northwest part of the state, along the Central Coast, and in the Los Angeles region.

I thank our senators for championing this important effort and am eager for the Senate to take action and pass the legislation this year.

The PUBLIC Lands Act is key to reaching the 30×30 goal. This legislation is an example of how we can tackle not only the climate and biodiversity crisis but also the nature gap crisis. Collectively, we can protect places that can be enjoyed by all Californians, regardless of where we live. 

With leadership from our senators — and the hard work of all our champions in Congress — we can ensure that more Californians have equitable space to recreate, cleaner air, shade, and a reprieve from stress, depression, and anxiety.

For me, the world often felt like it was spinning out of control this past year. I think a lot of people felt this way, and still do. At times like these, spending even a few minutes outside helps calm me, and reminds me that we will overcome these difficult times.

That’s a feeling that everyone — no matter their zip code — should be able to experience.

Editor’s Note: S
hanna Edberg directs conservation programs for the Hispanic Access Foundation, headquartered in Washington, D.C. 

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