Today, the Washington Post reported that President Biden plans to designate Avi Kwa Ame as a national monument to protect the ancestral lands of the Fort Mojave Tribe, advancing towards the goal of protecting 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030. In response to the commitment, Maite Arce, president and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation, released the following statement:
The first time that Mac Cardona met a wildlife biologist she was totally amazed, she couldn’t believe that someone could study cheetahs, and make a living that way.
When Ashley was just a child, she and her family used to go to the beach in Corpus Christi to watch the power of the sea. She loved the ocean so deeply that she thought she should study marine biology.
It is well known, the phrase “Faith can move mountains." For Jorge Fuentes, this is a certainty. More than once, he has experienced the power of prayer, when prayer speaks through letters, sit-ins and mobilizations for single parents and children about to be deported and separated from their families.
The SHIFT conference was an exciting part of the start of my fellowship. This conference was based in Fort Collins, Colorado in mid-October, focusing on the positive preventative effects of equitable access to nature. As a recent public health graduate working in the Office of Outdoor Recreation, I was thrilled to participate in an event where scholars, researchers and members of the wellness and recreation space come together to discuss developments in health. The entire week-long conference was very insightful, but there are a couple of moments that stood out to me that I want to share.
My introduction to the conference started off with an ‘experience’, where participants explored the Fort Collins region and connected with nature in various ways. My experience was centered around forest bathing, which is the practice of soaking in the forest through all of one’s senses. This can be as simple as a mindful walk through nature, where you immerse yourself in the sight, smell, taste, sound, and touch of the environment. Since Fort Collins was in peak fall season, it was easy to immerse myself in the yellow, red and orange hues of the leaves that surrounded me. The experience was guided with prompts where we thought of childhood experiences in nature and shared gifts that were offered back to the land to show gratitude. This was a lovely opportunity to connect with myself and my environment.
Another event that truly stayed with me was a panel that brought together emerging leaders in the beginning of their professional careers and seasoned professionals with inspirational life experiences. At the beginning of the session, panel members were asked to share how their personal experiences brought them to the outdoor recreation space in their careers. These stories were incredibly moving, with the first person to share being a young professional that described their hunting experience as a chance to connect with their body after having a difficult relationship with oneself. Their relationship with hunting reshaped my perspective on this form of outdoor recreation and gave me a deeper understanding of the almost meditative state one must reach to hunt. Another panel member, an indigenous woman who had a long, incredible career, shared how her childhood trauma empowered her to build homes for indigenous communities, despite significant barriers. Ultimately, these stories have encouraged me to invite vulnerability into my own life. How will I use my past experiences to make a change in the world? I admire the strength and courage of those that shared, and I strive to find that in myself. Those that have the ability to turn their obstacles into their driving force are powerful people.
The conference also allowed me to connect with my boss. After a couple months of working with her virtually, SHIFT was a great chance for me to meet my boss in person and understand how her public health education plays into outdoor recreation and community planning. I learned about her involvement in the trails health calculator, which is a tool being developed that would estimate the potential public health financial benefits that arise from building a trail. If a trail is created, how are health outcomes improved in a community? How much money is being saved that would have been spent on healthcare? How does the creation of a trail impact chronic disease rates? In a community of practice, we dissected the many variables to consider when creating this tool, like the impact of one trail vs. a system of trails, using trails to create safer routes to school, and determining who would use the trails.
All in all, the SHIFT conference was an amazing experience, where I got to meet so many dedicated professionals in the health and outdoor recreation space. Not only did I learn about exciting new programs and research, I also got the chance to learn more about myself. I hope to take the stories shared and the lessons learned and use it to guide my career path, from this fellowship onwards.
My background is in geology and even though my current position does not have as much to do with my background, this fellowship has still given me the opportunity to participate in field work when I get the chance to. In September I had the opportunity to tag along on a site visit to a hydrology related project in the Rocky Mountains. One of the hydrologists working on the project essentially gave me a tour of the area and explained the goal of the project, any background information, what they have done thus far, and what their next steps are. It was a nice change of pace since I usually work in an office. This was a restoration project with the goal of restoring what is now a meadow to its previously wetland environment. There are aerial photos of the meadow from ~25 years ago showing beaver ponds and dams that flooded the area. There are still beavers in the area, but no longer in the meadow. This is partially due to the absence of the willow tree, which they used to build their dams. So, part of the project is planting more willows and fencing off the area so other animals can’t eat them before they get the chance to mature. The other part of the project involves flooding the meadow using strategically placed (temporary) structures. The idea is to create an inviting environment for the beavers to want to come back into the area and maintain the wetland again.
This fellowship has also given me the chance to travel to amazing places I have never been! I was just recently in Texas visiting Big Bend National Park for an annual committee meeting. The park itself is located about ~4 hrs from the nearest airport, so it is very isolated. The park is very worth the trip! The sky was so dark, and the stars were so bight at night I was able to see the Milky Way for the first time! Although we spent most of our week discussing important workplan and agenda items, my favorite day was our float trip on the Rio Grande. We spent the whole day on a portion of the designated WSR section of the Rio Grande in canoes, also something I had never done before!
The year has come almost full circle. The change to cooler temperatures and autumn-colored leaves makes me reminiscence of when I first arrived in Albuquerque, NM in the late part of January of this year. I’ve learned countless lessons in not only supporting myself in a new environment, but I’ve also learned how to contribute my skills to aid the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Although I’ve enjoyed my work with the Hispanic Access Foundation and the USFWS, exploring the city has been a fun past time.
I saw working in the Southwest as a chance to explore many unique environments that were absent where I previously lived, in Tennessee. I enjoyed interacting with the environment in Tennessee, whether it was working in wetlands or temperate forests, but I wanted the chance to experience places that I’ve only heard of. The diverse ecosystems of the many deserts and alpine areas near Albuquerque immediately caught my interest. Although desert and alpine ecosystems may seem duller in comparison to wetlands, temperate forests, and other ecosystems in the southeast, I am excited to have the opportunity to experience these unusual places to learn more about them and make new memories. Despite the city appearing dry, surrounded by desert and with many buildings and few open spaces from satellite images, there are several fun places to explore within city limits. Two places that enjoyed visiting in the city was the Rio Grande Trail and the Pat Hurley Park. The Rio Grande Trail is stationed near the coast of the Rio Grande River and the environment largely contrasts the rest of Albuquerque. The park has forested areas near the entrance and features a several mile long biking road. It was interesting seeing flora similar to what I’d expect in from my home state within a pocket of the town and surrounded by buildings and desert.
I’ve also explored a bit outside the city. So far, I’ve been to Sandia Crest and Laguna del Perro. The view of the entire city from Sandia Crest was beautiful and well worth the drive. Just driving to the crest of the mountain was a fun experience as I got to see how ecosystems changed as I rose in elevation and once I looked down at the city from the crest of the mountain.
Laguna del Perro was the most recent place I visited. Although the rest area that I went to was about two hours from the city, the drive there was fun, and seeing such a sandy, remote place was awesome. It’s hard to describe how different the environment was compared to my past experiences.
Despite my job being mostly in the office, I love that I’ve had the chance to visit some of these great places. I’ve enjoyed my time here in Albuquerque so far and look forward to exploring more of New Mexico has to offer!
Pastor Armando Vera visits Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Texas and shares why it is important to protect our nation's public lands and make your voice heard in conservation.
Pastora Linda Sosa visits Denver's Cheesman Park and shares why it is important to protect our nation's public lands and make your voice heard in conservation.
Pastor Gabriel Araya visits Hemet, California's Simpson Park and shares why it is important to protect our nation's public lands and make your voice heard in conservation.