A few years ago, Jose Gonzalez asked himself: Where are the Latino-led conservation organizations? Specifically, where is a hub to connect Latinos and nature?

“It was difficult for me to find,” he says. When he learned that Internet domain names for “Latino” and “outdoors” were widely available, he thought: Wow, something is missing here! Not long afterward, a Latino student contemplating a conservation career asked him: Who should I talk to? Where should I apply? What organization could help me?

“I didn’t have a really good answer,” says the 33-year-old Gonzalez, a former public school teacher who was born in the Mexican state of Nayarit, migrated to the Unites States when he was 9, and grew up in California’s Central Valley. So, in 2013, he founded Latino Outdoors. The online community — http://latinooutdoors.org/ and https:// www.facebook.com/LatinoOutdoors — launched in earnest last year.

Latino Outdoors is developing a Latinoled community with conservation and the environment as a primary focus. It is using its members to “tell stories and connect the different Latino communities throughout the U.S. to more outdoor spaces,” says Gonzalez.

“We exist in two ways,” he says. One way is via 10 leaders who support about 180 members and represent Latino Outdoors in eight locales: the San Francisco Bay area; Los Angeles; Sacramento; Modesto, CA; Humboldt County, CA; Texas; Wyoming; and Massachusetts. The second way is via social media, where Latino Outdoors has 1,800 followers and growing.

The goal is to create a community that removes the “isolation factor” among Latinos and Latinas in the conservation field, Gonzalez says. Latino Outdoors also seeks to show how traditional Latino values like family and respect can help connect everyday people to nature. “In a lot of cases,” he says, “it’s not new. Communities are bringing their outdoor experiences from home countries.”

Latino Outdoors founder Jose Gonzalez (Analisa Freitas-Latino Outdoors)
Jose Gonzalez, a former teacher with a master’s degree from the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment, founded the online community Latino Outdoors in 2013. He launched it in earnest last year. (Analisa Freitas/Latino Outdoors)
Latino Outdoors stresses “the power of personal connection,” Gonzalez says. “People are saying, ‘I want to be able to meet with other people like myself who are doing this.’ ”

Latino Outdoors initiates family outings in partnership with existing community organizations and government agencies. It has orchestrated family outings to Muir Woods National Monument and Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail; the National Park Service helped defray travel expenses. The nonprofit Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods provided camping equipment for an overnight outing. Latino Outdoors has led casual day hikes at Don Edwards San Francisco Bay and San Joaquin River national wildlife refuges.

Latino Outdoors encourages personal storytelling on its blog. One poignant entry is titled, “How I overcame my fear of ‘El Cucuy’ — or how I gained my independence without losing my family” (http://bit.ly/1A7WILR). El cucuy is Spanish for boogie man.

Latino Outdoors is starting a mentoring program for aspiring conservationists and outdoorspeople. The program will allow mentors “to showcase how they are using their culture and their background as an asset in this work,” Gonzalez says.

Half of Latino Outdoors’ members are bilingual; half are Spanish-speaking only. Its members are not exclusively Latino. “It isn’t as though if you’re not Latino, you’re not welcome,” Gonzalez says. “We’ve had participants of all backgrounds.” Its leaders are mostly millennials and mostly volunteer. It receives administrative support from the California-based nonprofit Children Are Our Future, but “funding is a big need.” Latino Outdoors seeks to give support to and receive support from conservation agencies. Mostly, it wants a place at the table, Gonzalez says:

“I get the privilege and opportunity to attend conferences or focus groups, and I look around the room and I ask myself, ‘If I’m not here, who [from the Latino community] could be here in my place?’ When it’s hard for me to answer that question, I think about the need for me to push this forward.”