On Oct. 13, dozens of Latino faith leaders and youth from the Coachella Valley and High Desert will show their support for protecting the California desert at Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s public meeting with the U.S. Departments of Interior and Agriculture to discuss the proposed Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains national monuments. Latinos in the desert region have taken charge in engaging their communities and discussing the importance of protecting the desert for California’s diverse communities and future generations.
“Latinos make up nearly 50 percent of the population in the California desert – we have an important voice in the protection of our public lands, and a critical role to play in encouraging stewardship of our outdoor and cultural heritage,” said Maite Arce, president and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF). “Protecting the California desert is significant to people across many cultures and communities, and it will help strengthen the diverse social fabric of the region.”
Latinos throughout the region have been active in educating their communities about protecting this region. In the past two years, members of Por la Creación Faith-based Alliance, which unites Latino faith leaders to develop stewards of God’s creation by educating and engaging this generation to leave a legacy for the future, have led hikes, events and camping trips for Latino community leaders, youth and families at Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave National Preserve, Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, San Jacinto Mountains and The Living Desert.
“We have a moral responsibility to protect our public lands, rivers, wildlife habitat, and cultural artifacts in the California desert for our children and grandchildren,” said Pastor Frank Ruiz of the Indio Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church in Coachella Valley and co-founder of Por La Creación. “Our outdoor heritage is entrusted to us to be protected and preserved for future generations. We should respect God’s creations and live in harmony with them.”
The California desert is facing many threats — proposals to export groundwater from desert aquifers, air pollution, rapid community development and encroachments from renewable energy developments — that risk the future of this region and could have irreversible consequences. Sen. Feinstein introduced the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act in February, but Congress as yet to act on the legislation. Using the authority under the Antiquities Act, the President could designate the areas to be protected as national monuments. Each of the proposed national monuments will greatly benefit the region by helping to preserve vital habitat for a variety of wildlife, cultural and archaeological sites and artifacts, and breathtaking desert and mountain views. In September, numerous Por la Creación members from the desert sent a letter to the President encouraging him to take action.
“As a pastor, I believe that all of the designations made by presidents under the Antiquities Act protect beautiful landscapes and historic sites where we can connect with our past and our faith,” said Pastor Raul Velázquez of New Beginnings Christian Center in Victorville and member of Por La Creación. “Eight Republicans and eight Democrats have used the Act to create over 130 national monuments including the original protections for Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks. President Obama now has the opportunity to protect these special, inspiring places in the desert.”
The local Latino community’s interest in California’s public lands reflects a rising nationwide movement. In August 2014, HAF and Latino Decisions released a report — analyzing nine major public opinion polls from the past three years — that finds Latinos overwhelming support greater environmental protections, such as preserving parks and public lands.
“Latinos have an important voice in the protection of our public lands. We have a moral responsibility to future generations to protect God’s creation — preserving the mountains, rivers, deserts and other breathtaking landscapes of our nation,” said Pastor Jesse Villarreal of Templo La Hermosa in Coachella and member of Por La Creación. “Protecting the California desert is crucial not only to the majority of local economies in the area, but also to the spiritual well-being of our community.”
“We appreciate this opportunity and thank Senator Feinstein, DOI Deputy Secretary Mike Connor and USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie for letting us have our voice heard on why protecting the California desert is important to Latino community.”
Sen. Feinstein’s public meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, October 13 at 2 pm at the Wildlands Conservancy’s Whitewater Preserve (9160 Whitewater Canyon Road, Whitewater, Calif. 92282) just outside Palm Springs.