Our statewide poll of Hispanic New Mexico voters across party lines showed that by and large, Hispanics have a strong conservation ethic and are very concerned about the health of our state’s environment
As a Native New Mexican who is deeply concerned about the future of our state’s precious land and water resources, I was buoyed to learn that I was not alone.
Last week, my organization received the results of a poll we commissioned to study Hispanic New Mexican attitudes about conservation and the protection of our sacred wild lands. The findings, though not surprising to anyone who knows or works with the Hispanic community, nevertheless might open some eyes of the politicians and pundits who have for years said the environment is not a priority for Hispanic people, and that we are more concerned with access to the land rather than protection of it.
Well, our statewide poll of Hispanic New Mexico voters across party lines showed that by and large, Hispanics have a strong conservation ethic and are very concerned about the health of our state’s environment.
In fact, here are just a few of the key findings from the poll:
- Hispanic voters have serious concerns about a wide range of conservation issues, particularly drought and water scarcity, forest fires, pollution of air and water, and the loss of natural wildlife habitats. This includes a total of 91 percent of Hispanic voters concerned about water scarcity and fires and 87 percent expressing concern about pollution in drinking water, lakes and rivers.
- Hispanic voters overwhelmingly favor continuing federal funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Seventy-three percent of Hispanics back protecting the fund, which uses royalties collected from off-shore drilling to build local parks and preserve land and water resources such as the Valles Caldera.
- There is broad support among Hispanic voters for designating additional public lands as national monuments in New Mexico (58 percent support and 35 percent oppose) and protecting them from development. New Mexico’s national monuments, such as Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands and Bandelier, have created thousands of jobs and attracted millions of visitors to our state since they have been created. Currently, there is a move afoot in the U.S. House of Representatives to limit the president’s ability to designate national monuments, despite more public input into such designations than ever before.
- A strong majority of Hispanic voters (54 percent to 34 percent) support limiting how much cattle grazing can be done on public lands in order to protect the land from overuse.
- Hispanic voters overwhelmingly support ending the nearly $16 billion a year in federal tax breaks for oil and gas companies, 63 percent to 31 percent.
You can view the entire polling memo at our website, latinosustainability.org/.
The conservation ethic cuts across racial, ethnic and cultural divides
Sadly, policymakers for years have discounted Hispanics when it comes to conservation. Our community has been seen by some as solely focused on exploiting natural resources for personal gain. Though access to our traditional lands is a critically important issue, so too is making sure our air is clean, our water is pure and our open spaces remain unspoiled so that our children can stay and build their futures here.
Clearly, politicians and policymakers who take the Hispanic population for granted when it comes to our attitudes on conservation are missing the boat and, more importantly, they are missing out on reaching a growing and vital population in New Mexico.
Issues such as preserving the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has built hundreds of parks in our state, and ensuring that the Antiquities Act remains a vital mechanism for protecting areas of cultural and natural significance, matter to us, just as they matter to anyone who sees that New Mexico cannot grow or become prosperous without clean water or unspoiled landscapes.
My ultimate hope is for our leaders to realize that the conservation ethic cuts across racial, ethnic and cultural divides, and that just because a community has not traditionally been outwardly vocal about the importance of conservation does not mean it’s not important to that community.
The proof, as they say, is in the numbers.
Sandoval is executive director of the Latino Sustainability Institute, which is based in New Mexico.