By Dr. Jesse Miranda
As an American evangelical Christian leader and a strong advocate of our public lands, I am pleased to see our Congress taking charge of the environmental and conservation challenges we are facing and acting to protect our sacred public lands.
It was extraordinary to see the bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress when it passed in February, and President Trump signed into law in March, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act; creating one of the largest wilderness expansions in a decade including additions to Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks and the San Bernardino National Forest, as well as the permanent reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), one of America’s most effective conservation programs.
In fact, LWCF has supported more than 1,600 parks and projects in California. From hundreds of local community parks to national sites like Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave National Preserve and San Bernardino National Forest, LWCF has made an incredible mark on the state’s outdoor spaces.
My family and I have always enjoyed our state and local parks because we see them as an opportunity to connect with God and nature; we pause and contemplate our nation’s beautiful landscape and we put our lives in perspective to think about what it means to be stewards of God’s creation. We all share the moral obligation to protect our outdoor heritage, take care of these special places, and preserve them as a legacy for future generations.
However, I have seen that our public lands have not always been reflective of our country’s demographic and ethnic diversity. This disconnect is becoming more apparent as the face of our country continues to change at a rapid pace. Therefore, we must start a conversation about inclusion, a thoughtful dialogue that engages all segments of our population so that everyone feels welcome to enjoy our public lands, has a sense of shared ownership, and becomes active stewards and advocates for these treasured places.
Our nation’s public lands offer spiritual refuge, help improve the health of our community, preserve our shared cultural heritage, and significantly contribute to California’s economy. The Outdoor Industry Association reports that outdoor recreation, which is commonplace on public lands across the state, provides 691,000 jobs and more than $30.4 billion in wages, leading to $92 billion in consumer spending and $6.2 billion in state and local tax revenue.
Now, with the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act we have the opportunity to recommit our government to protect our country’s national parks and public lands through a system that engages, reflects and honors our nation’s people and shared history. By doing so, America’s rich and varied culture will shine through our national parks and public lands.
We must all work together to ensure that public land protection is strengthened, that the stewards of our lands reflect the diversity of our nation, and all Americans can feel a sense of ownership and pride in their contribution to our nation’s history and shared narrative for generations to come.
Dr. Jesse Miranda, President and CEO of the Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership in La Puente, California