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HECHO makes a splash in D.C.

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Hispanic conservationists> Looking for a balance between natural resources, energy needs

By Arin McKenna

A new organization based in Los Alamos attracted considerable attention in Washington, D.C. last week. A delegation from Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and Outdoors (HECHO), led by Director Rod Torrez, met with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, her staff and various officials prior to her address to the National Press Club on Thursday.

“One of the things that was most exciting to me–and also slightly disheartening–in a lot of ways it seemed like we were an animal they’d never seen before,” said Torrez, a former Bandelier National Monument spokesman. “This was the first time any group of Hispanics had come together on a national level dealing with conservation. And there was a lot of buzz about that. We’re kind of breaking ground.”

Univision recorded an interview with Torrez which is expected to reach local markets sometime this week. The story was picked up by the Associated Press, the Public News Service and Hispanic news outlets as far away as Spain.

Torrez was very encouraged by a meeting he had with Jewell. HECHO supports moving away from land use models focused entirely on economic benefits derived from oil and gas extraction to a Master Leasing Plan model. Jewell is highly supportive of MLPs, which consider not just extraction revenues, but also the cultural values of the people who live on the land and the value of other uses such as recreation.

“It’s a long range, wider view of the landscape that I think ultimately would create a lot less conflict,” Torrez said. “You answer your questions and deal with your conflicts up front and create plans. People know what to expect. They know where and when to expect it. And, for the Hispanic community, we’re having a say in protecting the lands that are important to us.”

Torrez extended an invitation to Jewell to come fish on the San Juan River between Navajo Reservoir and Farmington.

“We want her to see the qualities of water there. There’s excellent fishing, but in a very short distance you can see this amazing fishery as well as some pretty severe impacts of the oil industry. So we want to paint the picture for people and show them that it does affect things.”

The group spent considerable time with Jewell’s staff the day before her address, and made impromptu visits to several other bodies, including the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

According to the website, HECHO was formed by community leaders and Hispanic champions of the outdoors who value America’s public lands and who are pushing to balance land conservation with oil and gas development.

“One of the things that appealed to me about HECHO and really getting this organization kicked off is having conversations with my brothers and my dad and thinking about how our family and lots of families like ours fished, hunted, hiked in the Southwest, and in the West in general, for centuries,” Torrez said.

“And one of the things that always seemed frustrating was that decisions about the management of the land have largely been made without any input from the Hispanic community. Basically, in the west, we have these communities that have been established for centuries, and we really want to have a voice in how these lands are managed.”

Torrez hopes that HECHO’s call for a balanced approach appeals to those on all sides of the issue.

“For me–when it comes to oil and gas development especially–it’s really important for communities to have a say in how that development occurs, and looking for balance,” Torrez said. “Obviously, we all drive our cars and our pickups and we need that stuff and we need energy, but I think there are ways to do that responsibly and ways to do it smartly.”

Torrez has heard from many Hispanic constituents who want to see limits on technologies such as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which have had severe impacts on their communities.

“We want to insure that over the long-term our landscape is protected from destructive, damaging forces from the industry,” Torrez said. “Wherever there’s the potential of an impact, we really need to look at what we’re doing and make sure that we’re planning for the development.”

One of Torrez’ challenges will be educating political leaders and the public at large about Hispanic culture and values regarding conservation.

“I think that a lot of times people make assumptions about cultural groups,” Torrez said. “For instance, there was an article just the other day in the Huffington Post saying that Hispanics don’t go outdoors, basically that they don’t participate in outdoor recreation.

“They obviously didn’t interview anyone in New Mexico. You can talk to any of my cousins, my family, and just about any Hispanic family around here, and they’d find that laughable.

“So to me, that creates attitudes about our culture.”

Torrez supports another proposal by the Interior Secretary to create more public lands and open space in and near urban communities.

“Interestingly enough, a lot of surveys have shown that our city dwelling folk have a high regard for conservation. And I think that having outdoor spaces for them to play, for their kids to learn, will only strengthen that,” Torrez said.

Torrez sees Los Alamos as a good fit for HECHO.

“There are a lot of people here who hunt and fish and hike, all the recreation. There’s a whole community. And that’s one of the reasons people like living in Los Alamos. So this has benefits beyond the Hispanic community. It’s definitely being a voice for the outdoors.”

Over the coming months Torrez hopes to develop the website, hechoonline.com, into a clearinghouse running the gamut from recreational activities to how to take action on conservation issues. Those who support HECHO’s balanced approach can sign a pledge on the site. Information about the Washington trip should be posted on the website shortly.

“The challenge is educating people across the board that this is our reality, and that we really do have a stake in all of this. If we lose prime hunting ground, if we lose streams, if the health of our waters goes down, it affects a lot of us,” Torrez said. “And across the board, from the recreation to the health of the acequias, it’s all tied together and it’s all very important.”