In Spanish, hecho means “made.” We’ve all seen the lettering on countless products from Latin America – Hecho en Mexico, for example. Hecho a mano, denoting things made by hand.
|A HECHO poll shows strong Latino support for conservation. Photo by HECHO|
It’s uniquely fitting, therefore, that one of the nation’s most prominent organization for conservation-minded Latino Americans is called HECHO -- Hispanics Enjoying Camping Hunting and Outdoors.
Why? Because in the most elemental sense, we are all hecho por la naturaleza – products of the natural world around us. Like the world’s fish, wildlife and plants, we depend on the Earth’s natural systems for clean air, clean water, food, shelter, jobs and economic growth.
As the world’s human population continues to grow, the demand for resources will also increase. This in turn will put increasing stress on the wildlife and natural systems that support all life on earth.
At the same time, urbanization will continue to accelerate – making it increasingly difficult for many Americans to experience nature. This has profound implications for the health and well-being of millions of people, especially our nation’s youth.
Our spiritual and intellectual well-being is also hecho por la naturaleza. Who I am and the values I hold, both personally and professionally, have been shaped by the years I spent exploring National Wildlife Refuges around the country with my father, who was a career Fish and Wildlife Service employee. If you ask any one of our 8,000 employees, you’re likely to hear something similar – stories about childhoods spent wandering in the woods and the passion for wild places these experiences instilled in them.
Now, we’re finding that these experiences don’t just provide fond memories and career opportunities. Recent studies have found that children who spend more time active in nature are physically healthier, cognitively more advanced, and suffer fewer emotional problems than children who aren’t afforded those opportunities.
For all of these reasons, the men and women of HECHO understand that we all have a stake in conservation. They are leading efforts to raise awareness of Latino sportsmen/women and outdoor enthusiasts about conservation issues.
As HECHO notes, “To enjoy and to continue centuries-old cultural traditions, we depend upon healthy watersheds, clean air, robust wildlife habitats and access to open spaces.” Like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many others in the conservation community, HECHO seeks to balance development with conservation.
Since our country’s founding, the public land in our country, and the wild things on it, have belonged to us all. Conservation protects this important part of our national heritage, a heritage many Latinos embrace. They have long loved the outdoors – hiking, fishing, angling and camping. As HECHO says, “It’s our culture, it’s our tradition, it’s our history.”
In this way, HECHO echoes the words of Theodore Roosevelt, who once said: “I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.”
The ties that connect Latinos to the land are ancient. Latinos settled the American Southwest more than a century before the first colonies were established by England and France in North America. Now, Latinos make up an ever increasing percentage of the American population.
Latino registered voters in Colorado and New Mexico certainly have made their values clear. In a poll conducted for HECHO, more than 75 percent of Latino voters say protecting and conserving access to public lands are important. And more than half say they visit public lands for recreation at least monthly, many going weekly or more often.
And it’s not just our outdoor heritage that we’re protecting either. According to the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, in 2011 Americans spent $145 billion on wildlife-related recreation – nearly 1 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product – on lodging, equipment, guides and other necessities. Much of that money fills purses in smaller communities.
HECHO’s poll shows that a chunk of that comes from Latino wallets. More than half those polled say they spent $250 or more on outdoor equipment, and about 30 percent more than $500.
We need to find new ways to engage this growing constituency – and to help Latino families connect with nature. We need to show Latino Americans how our work benefits them – and the role they can play in helping to conserve fish and wildlife for their children and grandchildren.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is dedicated to finding a way to balance the use of our natural resources and the conservation of our wild things and wild places, and we must actively seek input from and engagement by Latinos and other nontraditional stakeholders to help us make better conservation decisions.
In this way, we can ensure that our descendants have a meaningful future. A future that is hecho en colaboración – made together.