Public News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A 50-year-old conservation program that will expire at the end of this month without action from Congress is the focus of a new film released by the Hispanic Access Foundation.
The film, “Land, Water, y Comunidad,” explores the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund to Latinos across the country, including in Las Cruces.
Estefany Gonzales Mendoza, coordinator of Juntos: Our Air, Our Water, says Latinos have a strong connection with sites funded by the LWCF, as places for communities to connect.
“It’s not just about maintaining our connectedness to Mother Earth, but it is also about maintaining cultures, traditions and family connectedness, because we know that our families celebrate so many things at the park,” she states.
LWCF funding helped conserve the Santa Fe National Forest and Watershed, a National Park Service Latino Heritage site that is significant for its history as the home to Hispano settlers and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
The program is not funded by individual taxpayers but rather, from a small portion of federal royalties from offshore drilling.
Recently, LWCF helped establish the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge with outdoor and educational opportunities for Bernalillo and Valencia counties.
Jennifer Brandt, deputy director of conservation programs for the Hispanic Access Foundation, says if the program is allowed to expire, parks might not have sufficient personnel or resources for maintenance and improvements, and some may even have to close.
“So, without that funding, it would be a detriment to so many communities who have received this funding in the past but wouldn’t be eligible for the funds that maintain these sites, and to help make sure that there are parks in every community, so that everyone has that access,” she points out.
New Mexico has received more than $300 million from the program over the past five decades, and Mendoza says generations of Latino families in the state have benefited from these sites.
“And we know our communities are already disproportionately impacted by environmental racism, which if Congress weren’t to authorize funding for the Land and Water Conversation Fund, then we know that that would add more stress and it would impact our communities,” she states.
Nationwide, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has supported more than 41,000 parks and projects since the 1960s.