The demographics of our nation are changing. By 2043, a majority of our country’s residents will be people of color, including more than 60% of those under the age of 18. Yet a 2018 Outdoor Industry Association report found that only 10% of Latinos were engaged in outdoor recreation activities.
In simple terms, the future of public lands depends on engaging and welcoming our diverse youths. We all share the moral responsibility of serving as stewards for our public lands and waterways, but without developing this connection between our youths and the outdoors, it will be difficult for stewardship to take root.
This is why my church, Centro de Adoración Familiar, has participated in the annual Latino Conservation Week celebration. There is nothing better than an active, firsthand experience to instruct, prepare and motivate our Latino youths for that role.
This year, through the support of the George H.W. Bush Vamos a Pescar Educational Fund, the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, Hispanic Access Foundation and the Nevada Department of Wildlife, we took more than 50 Latino youths to Lake Mead National Recreation Area for a day of fishing and stewardship activities. Seeing the excited faces of all the families and kids as they learned new skills and cast their first reel, or how they set fear aside to wade into the cool waters of the lake, made me proud to be able to help provide this opportunity for them.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund has been instrumental in making these experiences happen.
Lake Mead, like more than 42,000 other parks and projects across the nation, has received financial support from the fund — a federal program that is paid not by taxpayers but through royalties collected from offshore oil and gas drilling. From local community parks, pools, trails and sport facilities to some of our greatest national parks, forests and refuges, the fund supports the development, expansion and maintenance of these sites and ultimately makes these locations accessible. Americans of all stripes reap the benefits of these protected places, which help support local businesses and provide outdoor access and opportunities for hunters, fishermen, climbers, hikers, bikers and campers across America. For many Latinos and other diverse urban communities, sites funded through this program often provide their only means to experience the outdoors.
While the fund doesn’t cost taxpayers, its annual allocation, which is capped at $900 million, must be authorized by Congress. Full funding has happened only twice in 54 years.
This is why I, along with the majority of Americans, want to see the fund receive permanent and dedicated full allocation of money. The Senate and House overwhelmingly supported the permanent reauthorization of the fund this year, which reflects how important this program is to local communities. It’s time we start funding it that way. In the short-term, however, we still need Southern Nevada’s congressional delegates to continue to support long-term permanent funding to ensure our communities can continue to benefit from this critical program.
Failing to keep funding healthy not only jeopardizes the long-term access to these places for Latinos and other communities, but it also risks the potential to develop the next generation of environmental stewards.
Andres Almanza, a resident of Las Vegas and UNLV graduate, serves as the director of outreach operations/events for Centro de Adoración Familiar church.