“The COVID-19 crisis has shown how badly we need close, accessible, and abundant public lands and waters for health and wellness,” said Shanna Edberg, Director of Conservation Programs at Hispanic Access Foundation. “The better understanding we have of the health, economic, public opinion, and cultural implications of the policies that protect our public lands, in addition to the threats that climate change and regulatory rollbacks pose, the better prepared we will be to respond to future disasters.”
Latino communities across the United States experience disproportionate health and economic impacts of poor air quality, extreme heat and aridification, wildfires, drought and other severe effects of climate change. With our nation’s shifting demographics and Latinos on track to becoming 30% of the U.S. population by 2050, Latinos will continue to experience these severe consequences at a disproportionate rate. This imbalance of health issues, as well as access to the outdoors, has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Latinos across this country, especially children, the elderly, and those with chronic lung diseases like asthma, face numerous health risks associated with air pollution, and climate change is making air quality worse. Given the recent emerging evidence showing that long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with an increased mortality rate from COVID-19, addressing air pollution and climate change is even more important, especially as 16% of reported deaths from COVID-19 in the United States reported thus far have been from the Latino community,” said Juanita Mora, M.D., with the Chicago Allergy Center and volunteer National Spokesperson for the American Lung Association. “It is critical to fully implement the Clean Air Act, and support action on climate change to make sure that all Americans, including Latino Americans, have healthy air to breathe. It is part of the fight against COVID-19. ”
Public lands are a key component of our American identity and they weave a narrative of the diverse and complex history of our nation. These places preserve our shared cultural heritage, provide places to recreate and connect with nature, spend time with family and our communities, and significantly contribute to industries, local economies, and provide millions of jobs and employment opportunities. Latinos have been an integral part of this shared history. However, access to public lands, equal representation of our cultural heritage, and workforce contributions are not always acknowledged or represented.
“Latinos are changing the face of conservation and leading it to be more reflective of our nation’s communities. As they become leaders in this movement, they are creating solutions that represent the needs of their communities,” said Maite Arce, president and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation. “With the growing electoral power that this community is just beginning to discover, you have a political force that has the potential to shift the balance on conservation issues.”
One policy in particular the Latino community has followed is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which has successfully safeguarded countless acres of natural resources, enhanced access to public lands, preserved our historical legacy, and even supported local economies by boosting tourism. To this day, LCWF has helped protect more than 100 national battlefields in 42 states, supported over 42,000 parks and recreation projects across the country, in addition to protecting more than 2.2 million acres of national parks. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel announced last week that in June the Senate will finally vote on the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act. The Act will provide permanent dedicated funding for LWCF and address the $12 billion maintenance backlog facing our national parks.
The HAF 2nd annual Congressional Conservation Toolkit & Public Lands, Water, and Climate Impacts on Latino Communities, is available for download at: