En el Campo, Exploring Public Lands: A Q&A with Omar Sarabia of Wilderness Workshop’s Defiende Nuestra Tierra
September 8, 2022
Editor’s Note: Omar is the Program Director of Defiende Nuestra Tierra and an active member of the People, Public Lands and Climate Collaborative (Collaborative).
Tell us about yourself and your role in the Collaborative:
I’m working on increasing outdoor equity in western Colorado through greater access to recreation experiences, connecting our local Latino community with public lands and the agencies that manage them, and offering opportunities to take action in support of Wilderness Workshop’s many campaigns to protect lands and waters in our region.I am co-chair of the Collaborative’s Ecosystems subcommittee, which focuses on large-scale landscape conservation and biodiversity.
How do you enjoy public lands?
I’m fortunate to live in the beautiful Colorado River Valley, where I can hike from my backyard to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wildlands or head down to the Colorado River to enjoy time on the water; in the winter you can find me snowshoeing and snowboarding all across the White River National Forest. I’m at my best when I’m outdoors enjoying public lands with my family.
How does your work and contributions, as well as those of your team in the Collaborative, advance your policy and advocacy goals?
Wilderness Workshop’s campaigns to protect public lands and waters wouldn’t be possible without passionate advocates from our community. My work with local Latino community members helps me understand their needs and challenges, and I am proud to bring their voices to the table each time decisions are being made. We’re in a rural mountain area, where we face different challenges than those of urban areas, and I feel this is an important perspective I bring to the Collaborative.
What is the connection between public lands, climate action, and community in the work of your organization? How does it connect your organization’s mission? (Consider any lenses used to do this work, core values and equity.)
The Latino community has been affected by fossil fuel development in greater proportions than Anglo communities in our region, and there are more barriers in place to our ability to experience public lands. Oil & gas development hits close to home (literally), and we’re engaging the Latino community to advocate to protect their own backyards from damaging developments. By increasing bilingual programming, we’re intentionally showing Latino advocates what they’re protecting, educating them on how public lands and waters are managed, and encouraging them to be part of the climate solution.
How do public lands help foster a more inclusive understanding of community and the world? How can this be expanded?
Especially within our region’s immigrant communities, the concept of public lands is unfamiliar. I’m working hard to build a community that understands what public lands are and the many benefits that come with them. Additionally, I work to make sure public lands are places where people feel welcome to come together — I want everyone to experience the same joy that I do from getting outside with my family.
Why do you believe we need to protect public lands?
Working with state and federal agencies to help them understand the needs of the Latino community in our area is very important. Recently, we hosted an event in partnership with the White River National Forest to celebrate Latino Conservation Week; the morning focused on getting people out on public land and the most popular component was whitewater rafting – an experience many community members had never had before. Other ways that we’re working with land managers includes identifying areas where the Latino community would benefit from bilingual signage, additional trail information, and culturally relevant events.
What is the top action you’d like to see Congress and/or the Biden-Harris Administration take to preserve, protect and restore public lands?
Wilderness Workshop has been working with the community for over a decade to craft the public lands protections now included in the CORE Act (the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act). I believe this legislation will have a positive impact on Latinos in Colorado through its oil and gas reforms, wildlife protections, and support for the outdoor recreation economy.
What are actions individuals can take to help advocate for public lands, our natural world and especially for all people to access these spaces?
I often hear fear from individuals in the community who have been historically discouraged from speaking up, taking action, and becoming civically engaged. It’s time to be seen. Joining with others and creating a voice as a community provides the safety that we need to stand up for environmental justice and climate action.
Prioritizing wellness and self care is important in the work we do. How do you create space to connect with the outdoors?
Forest bathing helps clear my mind and adjust my perspective. This summer I’ve taken my family camping in the Flat Tops Wilderness, the Utah desert, and elsewhere closer to our home. Connecting with the land and each other during these overnights benefits our physical and mental health and brings us together as a family.