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Vanessa Muñoz: Empowering Latino Leadership in Conservation at COP28

For Vanessa Muñoz, joining Hispanic Access Foundation in April of 2022 became a turning point in her career. Growing up, she witnessed the disparities between Latinos and their access to nature, igniting a passion that would later unveil her commitment to breaking those barriers for her community and beyond.


Hispanic Access Launches Community Navigator Program Partnership with U.S. Forest Service to Connect Community Leaders to Climate Resilience Resources

Hispanic Access Foundation is partnering with the U.S. Forest Service to launch the Community Navigators Program (CNP). The goal of the program is to serve as a bridge between 1,200+ Latino-serving community-based/Spanish-speaking organizations, and those at high risk of wildfires and extreme climate change, and the U.S. Forest Service.


Hispanic Access Foundation President and CEO Speaks at Chamber of Commerce Interagency Convening on Equitable Economic Growth

On November 28, Hispanic Access Foundation’s President and CEO Maite Arce spoke at a panel for the Department of Commerce’s third annual Interagency Convening on Equitable Growth. This year, the convening focused on celebrating business diversity, equitable workforce development, and community investment in partnership with key stakeholders from government, private sector, and community organizations.


Valery Serrano: Empowering Communities Through Collaborative Leadership

Valery Serrano’s journey from a biology undergraduate to a Master of Arts in Biology student at Miami University in Ohio reflects not only her academic capabilities but also her dedication to empowering underrepresented communities within the field of science, an interdisciplinary approach she was inspired to pursue to honor her upbringing.

Her career journey began with an internship at the Gulf Breeze Zoo, sparking her interest in animal care and captive conservation. Subsequent experiences at the Wildlife Animal Sanctuary and with the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance broadened her scope, exposing her to diverse conservation initiatives.

During her academic pursuits, Valery kept a commitment to fostering inclusivity. Her involvement with Student Support Services at her university underscored her dedication to ensuring quality data for governmental auditing while engaging with a diverse student population.

“I focus on students of color and the relationship with science and how we can evaluate that relationship. Specifically, the research that I do with students of color, and the way they do research. Seeing the opportunities that Latino communities have, and how that impacts our relationship with forests or public lands in general. My community shaped me.”

Valery got involved with Hispanic Access Foundation through the MANO Project, an opportunity she completed twice at two different sites, and that significantly shaped her trajectory.

“My first internship was an eight-month internship out of Bayfield, Colorado, doing special uses. I completed that in February of this year, and since I had a direct hire authority already for my first MANO Project internship, I was just able to go into the position that I was working in for my second internship.”

Valery's reflections on being a minority within her college, juxtaposed with her upbringing in a predominantly Latino community, shed light on the disparity in opportunities that often exist for communities of color within conservation. She implemented that worldview throughout the projects she undertook while in her internships. One of the ways Valery implements this passion as she delves into her current position, is focusing on enhancing the representation of diverse demographics in conservation volunteering efforts.

One of Valery’s proudest achievements during her second internship with the MANO Project was her contribution as a co-author for a project developed by the previous Resource Assistant at the San Juan National Forest in the Rocky Mountain region. Through an external partnership, her colleague and Valery worked on a cultural framework and series of trainings aimed at educating agency people about increasing indigenous collaboration and engagement.

“When I came in as a research assistant, that's something that I worked on heavily. I organized the design of the training, getting meetings set, and everything signed so it could be pushed forward to be published. Hopefully this week, we’ll be able to publish it just in time for National Native American Heritage Month.”

Her experience with the MANO Program fostered mentorship skills that she is now able to apply in her career, serving as a mentor for other college students paving their way into conservation careers.

“Without my mentors and their support, I wouldn't be where I am today. You must advocate for yourself, which I could proudly say that I did, but also without their support, it wouldn't be possible. I think I found this program very beneficial. I just want other people to realize that there are programs like this that exist for them to have opportunities. I was able to strengthen my mentorship and leadership skills throughout this experience.”

Valery's persistence and proactive approach in seeking mentorship and refining her skill set proved pivotal for her career advancement, leading her to secure a permanent position at the San Juan National Forest with the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail Partnership.

“Leadership in conservation I think is realizing that there's room for growth and that there’s always room for you to learn more. The leader that you were a month ago, the leader that you were a week ago is not the same leader that you are today. Being open to learning more and taking in different aspects of other people in a world that's always changing, is crucial.”


Latest Blog

Training & Trails

Four months into my position with the U.S. Forest Service and I have been treasuring every moment. I have been able to meet new people from many different places and see what the Forest Service has to offer. I will say that coming into this position, I didn’t understand how grand the Forest Service is. There are countless positions and roles in the Forest Service that I didn’t realize were even possibilities. There is a place and position for what your passionate about and I feel that is what makes the Forest Service a great place to pursue a career. I have been fortunate enough to have a supervisor who is willing to help guide me along the way and share her extensive knowledge with me. Alongside my supervisor, many are willing to offer their help and let me tag along with various projects that are going on in the Mendocino.

Recently, I was able to be apart of a training taking place for the Forest Service in Foresthill, California. The training was to learn the basics and the utilization of Mechanized Trail Equipment, and I was in a position to receive a certification to operate and maintain trail tractors, mini excavators, and other tracked equipment. I will say I was a bit nervous going in because I had no prior experience nor knowledge of the equipment that we were going to use. Throughout the week, I had the pleasure of working alongside both those that were training as well as the trail crew from the American River District. I was able to get quite a bit of seat time in order to grasp using dozers and mini excavators. I had such an exciting and useful experience. Everyone present for the training was encouraging each other and helping one another consistently.

Overall, my experience with the Forest Service has benefited me and I am ecstatic to see what other opportunities await me in the future. In the midst of the fall season, the leaves are changing colors and I’m looking forward to seeing just how much more beautiful the Mendocino can get in winter!  

(Photo: First try at a rolling dip in a Sutter 500!)

The Return To Tumacacori

It's finally that time of year when Arizona is not in 90+ degree weather! 


Coming to the end

Hello blog readers! As I come to the end of my second fellowship with Hispanic Access Foundation and the National Park Service, I wanted to take a bit to reflect on how I got here, where I’m going, and what I’ve learned along the way. I first started with HAF and NPS as a Projects and Communications Fellow with the Partnership Wild and Scenic Rivers (PWSR) program based in Springfield, Massachusetts. Besides becoming acquainted with PWSR during my fellowship, I also learned a lot about the Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance (RTCA) program. I quickly realized that working with both programs was my dream job – one in which I’d be able to support community conservation on the grounds and providing technical assistance. My second term as a fellow with HAF and NPS only reinforced this idea as I was able to take on greater responsibility not only within the PWSR program, but also RTCA.

Prior to my first fellowship I had earned a Master of Science in environmental conservation with a focus on environmental policy and human dimensions. During my graduate school research, I learned that I really did not like research and wanted out of the academic circle as soon as possible. I wanted to work on real world issues facing the communities I cared about most. It was through graduate school, though, where I was able to create a local chapter of Latino Outdoors in Western Massachusetts. Here, I cultivated a local network of conservation stakeholders, community leaders, and folks who were eager to get outside with folks who shared similar backgrounds as them. I continue to work on this local network and pushing forward the mission of Latino Outdoors.

The most impactful piece of advice I received during my fellowship with HAF and NPS was to just talk to as many people as possible. This doesn’t necessarily need to happen during conferences or other in-person gatherings where everyone is exhausted. I was able to set up many opportunities for short ‘informational interviews’ with folks all over NPS, the Forest Service, and Fish and Wildlife! While being virtual is often times a negative, it has been really important to my growth as a professional to be able to meet and chat with folks all across the country. Likewise, taking advantage of any and all conferences or opportunities for professional development is huge. Just in my (almost) two years alone, I was able to visit Maine, Texas, Washington State, West Virginia, Colorado, and Florida, all for conferences or other in-person network gatherings! I was able to connect with folks who I wouldn’t normally have been able to meet or cross paths with.

After my current fellowship ends as a River Conservation Fellow, I will take on the new title of Community Planner with the NPS PWSR and RTCA programs! I am insanely grateful to all of the folks who have been supporting me along the way, especially those at HAF. I am looking forward to starting my dream job.

Watching the Seasons Change in Albuquerque

The months have quickly flown by here in the Burque, and I can’t believe it’s almost Thanksgiving. Sometimes it feels like it’s still summer. Even today, the high was almost 70 °F and I need to turn on my A/C and fan just for an hour or two until the sun starts to set. Every day, I feel like I turn on my laptop and go to my weather app and it says New Record for today’s temperature. It might be recency bias, but I believe that last fall wasn’t this warm. As a Civilian Climate Corps Fellow, I can’t help but worry about the trends that I’m noticing.

This fall I got to go again to the amazing Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in October. I had a blast! I enjoyed the festival atmosphere, the good food, the cultural shows, and seeing balloons ascend.

My work locating orphan oil and gas wells on National Wildlife Refuges in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona with remote sensing techniques is starting to wrap up. My coworker and I have started standardizing our data, which means that we must make sure our data table attributes, and naming conventions are identical. This makes it more likely that our remote sensing techniques to detect wells can be replicable in the future by other U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff. Also, another tool that helps our well detection become long-lasting is metadata, or data about data. This entails information like dates, geospatial coordinate systems, details about our methods, etc. Metadata can be very time consuming but it’s very useful for the longevity of our project. After we finished writing the metadata for all the refuges we analyzed for potential orphan wells, we published our data in ServCat, which is the USFWS’s data catalog. This is very exciting because this means our data can be accessible by a wider audience in the USFWS. I’m honored that my work can be used in the pursuit of remediation of wells on land meant for the conservation of our natural resources for generations to come.  


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