America’s Great Outdoors in New Mexico

America’s Great Outdoors Listening Session, Albuquerque, NM
July 17, 2010

Post by Don Boyd

There were about 400 participants in the Great Outdoors Listening Event I attended in Albuquerque on July 17. A youth involvement forum had been held among youth earlier in the day and a pair of teen representatives from that forum gave a report highlighting a youth march for conservation as one practical thing that youth could do. Following remarks by Senator Bingaman, Secretary Salazar, and an emcee from the Dept. of the Interior and a panel of New Mexico folks – Alvin Warren, Cabinet Secretary of the New Mexico Indian Affairs Dept; Kenny Salazar – Assoc. Dir. of the New Mexico Acequina Assoc.;
Sue Probart, Exec. Dir. of Tree New Mexico; and Carl Colonius, Exec. Dir., Rocky Mountain Youth Corps – we broke into 4 groups to hold discussions.

The group was facilitated by someone from the Dept. of the Interior and we were asked to respond to 4 questions:

  1. What Works
  2. Challenges – obstacles to achieve goals for conservation, recreation, or reconnecting people to the outdoors?
  3. Federal Government’s Role – how can the feds be a more effective partner?
  4. Tools – What additional tools and resources would help your efforts be even more successful?

1. What Works?

Beyond acknowledging that these events would have never happened in the previous administration and that there is a hope that it reflects a deeper and more abiding appreciation of the importance of conservation of our natural resources, we didn’t talk much about what works.

2. Challenges?

Not surprisingly, we spent most of our time here.

  1. No plan for youth involvement.
    This observation drew more comments and agreement than any other identified Challenge. A US Forest Ranger talked about how he involved youth in his region and how he could do more with additional funding. He spoke about how a similar activity when he was a kid set him on his career path. Youth are seen as unconnected and clearly experiencing “nature gap” (nature deficit disorder). Lack of a plan is reflected in: no vocational ag programs in schools; teacher ignorance about how to introduce nature and conservation programs, and parent apathy; and, no creation of entry
    level jobs by the Fed. government. (New Mexico’s high poverty rate and high unemployment, especially among young Hispanics, is both a source of concern and hope if funding could be found to introduce them to wilderness and conservation issues.) One participant gave the rallying cry of, “No child left on their behind, no child left inside!”
  2. Potential loss of wilderness quality lands in Utah – much redrock country is at risk – in New Mexico Otero Mesa grasslands and others – and in Colorado. (Understandably, there was more focus on the risks in New Mexico.) Potential for severe destruction to waterways due to proposed new uranium mining in New Mexico.
  3. Lack of a meaningful vision. This lack of vision has prevented effective planning for the use of public conservation resources and allows some lands to be cherry picked by short sighted local politicians and/or well financed private parties.
  4. There is little overall coordination of preservation efforts. One participant offered the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan as an example of what can happen when there is a well coordinated plan across a geographic area.
  5. The increasingly higher cost of accessing public lands. What began as a “pilot” (charging access fees), has gone on to be the norm and the result is that many people cannot afford to visit “public lands” and therefore have little investment in protecting them.
  6. Fiscal year budgets are often in conflict with youth association budgets making application for funding difficult.
  7. Lack of public appreciation for the connection between our dependence on non-renewable resources and the pressure on natural land resources.
  8. No coordination of resources from all entities at the state level.

3. & 4. Fed. Government Role?

  1. Vision with teeth in it that supports sustainable access to wilderness quality lands.
  2. Clear earmarking of resources to engage and involve youth (ala CCC)
  3. Creation of a Fed. Partnership Coordinator role at each state to coordinate resource distribution to local entities. A high point of the event was being able to hear what is being done by local people who are leveraging local resources, including volunteers, to involve youth and protect local habitat.
  4. Do away with the “No New Wilderness” policy.