Max Trujillo caught the conservation bug during childhood summers spent with his father hunting, hiking and camping in the wilderness of northern New Mexico. In the years that followed, Trujillo noticed that many Hispanic families were out enjoying the woods, but they weren’t involved in the mainstream environmental movement.
“As a community, we’re grossly underrepresented, and we’ve allowed that (trend) to grow in the conservation arena,” Trujillo, who is now 50 and lives in Las Vegas, New Mexico, told me recently.
So two years ago, Trujillo helped found one of the first national Latino organizations dedicated to conservation in the southwest, HECHO (Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and Outdoors), with the goal of translating Latino outdoor enthusiasm into more direct action to protect public lands, particularly from the increase in oil and gas activity near wilderness areas.
Trujillo had a hunch that the avid outdoor recreation streak he was seeing among Hispanics might also point to strong conservationist leanings. To test that, HECHO conducted a poll of 200 Latinos of voting age in Colorado and New Mexico, which asked about their participation in activities like hunting and camping, as well as their views on energy development and public land protections. In June, HECHO posted some surprising results.
For one, a whopping 93 percent of those interviewed said they believe the government should protect public lands for recreation and the overall health of the environment. What’s more, the results spanned age demographics and party affiliation, a clear indication, says Trujillo, that for Latinos partisanship doesn’t play a role in how they value the land.
More than half the respondents—no matter their political affiliation—said they would like to see oil and gas companies prove their development won’t harm the environment or limit access to public land. These respondents said they would prefer a candidate who enforced such a view.
That’s especially significant given that over 40 percent of Latinos polled in both states acknowledge that natural gas extraction has the potential to create jobs.
Furthermore, the poll found that 77 percent supported a plan requiring oil companies to pay royalties on natural gas they burn in the extraction process in order to pay for pollution-mitigation efforts and to support conservation programs.
“It’s interesting,” said Maite Arce, the President of the Hispanic Access Foundation, “that given the diversity of the Hispanic community, support for conservation sees unanimous agreement.” And for candidates who want to court the Latino vote, it also makes the environment a potential issue.