Our public lands belong to all of us, and involving diverse perspectives in conversations about public lands management is a critical step towards ensuring that these spaces truly serve the needs of the public.
Latinx and other minority populations are currently underrepresented among public lands users and activists, due to systemic exclusion by both policymakers and environmental activist organizations. When the voices of underrepresented minorities groups go unheard, an elite group of people make decisions that are inconsistent with public opinion.
Over the last several months, we have collaborated with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) in an effort to increase the diversity of voices engaged in conversations about wilderness and public lands. To achieve this, we hosted tabling events at community centers in diverse areas of Salt Lake.
Currently, access to information and opportunities for engagement in public lands issues is unequal. Improving diversity within public lands activism will benefit environmental organizations and communities that are currently underrepresented in the movement.
The vast majority of information about public land issues is only available in English, and most of it is directed towards a highly educated audience. Information about public lands issues should be clear and understandable for everyone regardless of education or language. Increased availability of information will also improve the accessibility of public lands themselves, so a more diverse group of people will have the opportunity to visit wilderness areas.
Environmental organizations should extend outreach throughout the entire Salt Lake community instead of concentrating events and education efforts in wealthier and less diverse areas of the valley. While some organizations have begun to concentrate on fostering diversity, we believe this should be an urgent priority for all environmental groups.
Increasing the number of people engaged in public lands issues will provide environmental organizations greater weight in influencing policy. A more diverse group of activists will also create more balanced policy recommendations by representing the interests of the Salt Lake community more completely. To effectively preserve Utah’s wilderness, including currently controversial areas like Bears Ears and the San Rafael Swell, the environmental movement needs to foster inclusivity for everyone.
Based on our experiences with outreach in west Salt Lake, we believe that underrepresented communities must be provided with equal access to public lands and activism opportunities.
Avery Driscoll, Alex Bochner, Harrison Buck and Wren Matelich are e nvironmental studies students from Westminster College.