En el Campo, Exploring Public Lands:
A Q&A with Protégete Director Beatriz Soto

1. What is your organization doing to advance climate action and public lands victories through reconciliation, the infrastructure package or other efforts?

Protégete is based in Colorado and elevates Latino voices and our community’s climate, water, land, air and community priorities. Our Latinx community does not live single issue lives, so our work is intersectional, and it’s imperative we acknowledge that work. At the end of the day, a strong, healthy and resilient Latino community is what we need to face an ever-changing climate reality and make sure we are addressing the root causes that got us to a climate crisis in the first place.

We have been working hard to create and support legislation that helps our state meet its climate roadmap and hold our state government accountable to meet its targets — this is more climate related and cutting greenhouse gasses. Where polluters are held accountable, and no Latino family is left behind.

Colorado is a headwater state, as such we will be engaging in protecting one of our most valuable assets — water. From replanting and managing high country forests devastated by wildfires to investing in water recycling systems in larger cities. Through our work, we have found that many Latinos across the state do not have access to clean water, especially those in mobile home parks. We are working to make sure water quantity is addressed, also that we ALL have access to clean water.

We have some amazing public land champions in the state, we are helping pass the CORE ACT, The Colorado Wilderness Act, as well as the Civilian Corps and meet the 30×30 goals. Still, historically excluded communities are still missing at the table. Protégete, in partnership with the Next 100 Colorado Coalition, is planning outreach and diverse stakeholder engagement in 2022 to help drive community-led conservation efforts to meet our 30×30 goals and the most venerable in our community are included in the conversation and benefit from nature protection.

2. What is the connection between public lands (or the environment for that matter) and the work your organization does?

Protégete has been working on public land and environmental issues from the lens of the Latinx community in Colorado for the past seven years. We hope to bring an intersectional view to land conservation — yes, we believe in preserving biodiversity and ecosystems, we believe in intact wildlife corridors and conserve large swaths of land from extraction and overdevelopment. We also want to balance this approach with community-based conservation, where Latinx communities benefit from nature and don’t carry the burdens alone. We want conservation to be a tool for our communities to be more resilient in a new climate reality, where no Latinx family is left behind, and where we can all be a part of the solution and benefit from our collective efforts, not only in Colorado, but across the country and across borders.

3. How does your role, or your contributions and those of your team in the People, Public Lands and Climate Collaborative, advance your policy and advocacy goals?

We hope to bring the Latinx perspective of Colorado to the Collaborative. I strongly believe we all benefit immensely from being a part of the Collaborative, it has opened new doors for all of us. As a Collective we hold different networks and leadership positions in our communities and together we can balance more perspectives, priorities and find solutions with diverse stakeholders that don’t tend to be at the decision-making table. I hope juntos we can elevate Latino and BIPOC-led policies that benefit all our communities and uplift people that have traditionally been overlooked.

4. Personally speaking, how do you find and connect with the outdoors?

I love being outdoors! I definitely enjoy some of the more mainstream activities, like trail running, hiking, camping and paddle boarding. But, I also practice activities that are very dear to my heart and culture, piñatas in park, días de campo with my extended family where descendants of my great grandmother come together to celebrate her legacy in the great outdoors, my sister loves to burn sage when we camp and speak to our inner niñas around the campfire and my husband loves to cook carne asada with our compadres in the middle of the woods. So basically, any opportunity we get to celebrate a milestone or come together, we usually will be outdoors.

5. How can public lands help foster a more inclusive understanding of community and the world?

As a Latina, my culture is tied to the outdoors. We see ourselves as part of the natural world and connecting with public lands helps us continue our traditions and the historical connection to the land and all living things. Public lands are for the benefit of all people and the ecosystems that help sustain our communities. If we, as humankind, could celebrate our diverse cultural heritages through the lens of living in harmony with nature, we wouldn’t be in the climate and nature loss crisis we are today. We must build a global community around the protection of the natural world, all its inhabitants and our wonderful cultures, especially the ones proven to better understand and protect the natural world.

6. What are the top three actions you’d like to see Congress or the Biden Administration take to preserve, protect and restore public lands?

Environmental justice needs to be at the forefront when we are thinking of land protection and restoration, so many communities have been excluded from the benefits of clean air, clean water and access to land that is free of pollutants, this is no longer acceptable.

Indigenous Sovereign Nations should have significant portions of their ancestral lands returned as the rightful stewards with the financial support to restore and care for the land and its ecosystem.

The fossil fuel industry should no longer be allowed to operate on our public lands. It’s unbelievable to think that lifecycle emissions from the production and combustion of fossil fuels produced on public lands as a result of the federal leasing program are equivalent to over 20 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

7. How can the work you do via your organization be a differentiating role or driving vehicle in advocating for public lands?

We are working to bring new and historically excluded voices to public land advocacy, to create a collective awareness of the threats our public lands are facing. We want to ensure public lands are part of our resilience in the face of a changing climate, where both communities and wildlife benefit from the conservation of nature. Protégete is building coalitions, supporting spokespeople development and engaging with diverse stakeholders to bring more people to the table and create nature and community-based solutions for the prosperity of our state and our public lands.