As a small child,he was too short to see over the railing,so his father picked him up so he could see the winding Colorado River at the base of the canyon.
“It was like bliss,” Torrez,director of Hispanics Enjoying Camping,Hunting and Outdoors,said. “It was like the whole world opened up beneath me.”
Torrez isn’t alone. According to a poll conducted by HECHO and released at a news conference Wednesday,many Latinos say they have a strong connection to the land. The poll found that 93 percent of respondents believe the government should protect public lands for recreation.
Those feelings could translate into voting habits and a deeper understanding of a major voting demographic. The poll was conducted from late May until early June and asked members of the Latino community who were registered voters how they felt about recreation and what the government’s role should be in protecting public space.
“We are all conservationists,and we didn’t even know it,” Arizona state Rep. Mark Cardenas D-Phoenix,said.
Gabriel Sanchez,a researcher with Latino Decisions,conducted the poll that surveyed 400 Latinos in New Mexico and Colorado. HECHO’s pollsters were all bilingual and called people on landlines,cell phones and included an online option,Sanchez said,because they wanted to get the most accurate sample size possible.
The margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
Sanchez,who is an associate professor of political science at the University of New Mexico,included questions in the poll that assessed Latino’s voting preferences. In a hypothetical election,73 percent of respondents would support a candidate who favors conservation policies compared to one who didn’t.
“Latino sportsmen and families who value the outdoors want their voices to be heard and want to shape decisions about the use of our public lands,” Max Trujillo,HECHO deputy director,said.
The poll also found that a slight majority of Latinos would support maintaining the environmental integrity of the land. The poll found 77 percent of Latinos would support a plan requiring oil companies to pay royalties on natural gas they burn during the extraction process. HECHO has voiced its opinions on this subject before,in a May 15 blog post the group asked, “Do we want our precious landscapes to look like the Bakken in North Dakota?”
Roughly half of the respondents said they felt natural gas expansion damages the environment.
Bryan Arroyo,assistant director of international affairs at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,said he hopes the poll data will encourage environmental advocacy groups to seek out more Latino members.
“Our strength is in diversity,” Arroyo said.
Latinos are also a major part of the recreation economy. In the last year,88 percent of Latinos purchased equipment for outdoor activities. The poll shed some light on what kinds of outdoor activities Latinos enjoy. More than half said they walk,backpack or watch wildlife.
Cardenas added to this finding anecdotally – his children chose to go on a camping trip instead of going to Disney World.
“Many Latinos have a strong ethic for the land,” Torrez said. “We care about the land.”
Reach reporter Daniel Wheaton at [email protected] or 202-236-9871. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.