Opinion

Protecting California’s public lands is a top priority

A scenic road leads to the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada near Mammoth Lakes. (Photo: Craig Cooper, via Shutterstock)

My love of nature started in the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles. As a child, I went there to hike and enjoy trips with my father. Since then, going out into nature has become an essential part of my life. For me, it’s a spiritual experience – a chance to feel connected both to my Creator and to the creation.

And I now share that spiritual experience with my 17-year-old son. Hiking in nature is our chance to bond. There is no cell signal or WiFi. It’s a special place where my son and I can talk and connect.

Being in nature reminds us all of our connection to the land and to each other. The next generation needs to be able to see the beauty all around us in Southern California and in the state.

But many families, and Latino families in particular, don’t have access to nature close to home.

The bill would protect and increase access to more than one million acres of public lands and well over 500 miles of rivers throughout California.

According to a recent report from Hispanic Access Foundation, Latinos and other people of color in California are two times more likely to live in nature-deprived areas than white people. When kids are deprived of nature, that means they’re missing out on safe places to play and families are missing out on opportunities to bond with each other.

That’s why Hispanic Access Foundation helps facilitate Latino Advocacy Week so that our communities can demand change. The event, which happens annually in March, helps support Latino communities, organizations, families, and individuals becoming advocates around the issues that impact their daily lives. Community groups, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, local leaders, and elected officials champion legislation and advocacy efforts that uplift and support Latino communities across the state and country, leading to a more equitable society.

The legislation I’m advocating for is the Protecting Unique and Beautiful Landscapes by Investing in California Lands Act, better known as the PUBLIC Lands Act.

The bill, championed by California’s U.S. Sens. Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein, would protect and increase access to more than one million acres of public lands and well over 500 miles of rivers throughout California spanning three regions: the San Gabriel Mountains, key forests and rivers in Northwest California, and the Los Padres National Forest and Carrizo Plain National Monument on the Central Coast. Companion legislation has already passed the U.S. House several times.

The PUBLIC Lands Act is not an option, it is a need.

In the Los Angeles area, for example, the legislation would expand the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and improve recreational opportunities in the San Gabriel Valley, where there is particularly limited access to nature. But access isn’t just about expanding public lands and rivers protections, it’s about ensuring visitors feel safe and welcome visiting these places. I hope future legislation will also make public lands and rivers more accessible by investing in public transit, wheelchair-accessible paths, signage in multiple languages, and more.

Public lands and rivers are a key component of our identity, and they weave a narrative of the diverse and complex history of our state and nation. These places, all of which are Indigenous ancestral lands, preserve our shared cultural heritage, and significantly contribute to industries, local economies, and millions of jobs and employment opportunities.

Latinos have been an integral part of this shared history.

I am grateful to Sens. Padilla and Feinstein for their leadership on this issue and urge the U.S. Senate to pass the PUBLIC Lands Act. I want to take my future grandchildren to the San Gabriel Mountains to hike, fish, and camp. To bond with them the way I’ve bonded with my son. All Latino families need this same opportunity. If you’d like to join me in advocating for our public lands and rivers, please get involved by visiting hispanicaccess.org.

Editor’s Note: Juan Rosas is a Conservation Program Associate with the Hispanic Access Foundation.

 

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