Wilderness Workshop offers bilingual programs for more inclusive community education
Defiende Nuestra Tierra, a branch within Wilderness Workshop, is trying to bring traditional, outdoor winter activities to people who might not have experienced them before by breaking down barriers to access.
Grant Stevens, communications director of Wilderness Workshop, said since the organization’s mission is to conserve and preserve public land, and a bilingual approach invites and encourages Spanish-speakers to come out as well.
“Snow Days is a new event series…and (is) very much geared towards both the Latino community and the Anglo community. And getting folks out on public lands, kind of breaking down barriers to do that. Taking people places where they might not normally get to go,” Stevens said.
Beatriz Soto, Director of Defiende, served as the translator at the most recent event, a Wilderness Walk and Talk, and would translate if any language barriers came up while the experts Hilary Boyd from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and District Wildlife Manager Brian Gray. Stevens said while the group enjoyed the scenery and respected the closures in place for winter, they also discussed current threats to public lands and how community members can advocate for the preservation of these spaces.
“I think we think about oil and gas development is a big threat, climate change, kind of not having these permanent protections in place for land…(We heard) from the Latino folks that were there that want to fish and hike in the wildlife areas and in the state parks, but hearing the barriers from them…There’s the traditional oil and gas things that we’re worried about and then there are these access issues too,” Stevens said.
Stevens also said Latino community members were able to receive more information on how to get hunting and fishing permits that would allow them to visit these areas, something they had historically faced challenges with. Gray said that state wildlife areas now will require individuals to have at least one of these permits, but that previously a drivers license or a passport was needed to purchase one.
“That changed back several months ago, so people who had those questions regarding that should be able to buy licenses now…I would suggest they go to one of our offices just so there isn’t any confusion…We should be allowing people to buy licenses whether they have perfect documentation or not,” Gray said.
During the event, Boyd said the group encountered about 70 elk. Instead of bringing the group further into that area, they changed course. She said Gray tried to lead by example in this way, since they had been discussing why winter closures are set up in the first place and how it is important to not enter these areas when they’re marked off to protect wildlife habitats. The closures for wintering wildlife will go from Dec. 1 to April 15, Boyd said, and it can be tempting for people to want to use that space as the weather gets warmer.
“Winter is probably the most stressful time for deer and elk, and a lot of other wildlife species because there isn’t much to eat…It’s really important to respect those closures because a lot of deer and elk, a lot of the females are carrying babies and it’s the end of this long, hard time for them and we need to help them just be able to make it just a little bit longer,” Boyd said.
In addition to making its events bilingual, Stevens said WW is looking forward to Latino Advocacy Day and week taking place from March 15-19 and the events they’ll be putting on then.
“So much of winter stuff is just expensive gear to have, and that is really challenging to a lot of folks and especially if you have a growing family too, where your kid is not going to be the same size this year as they are next year,” Stevens said.
WW put on a snowshoe drive in December and worked with local sponsors for discounts or donations on equipment. Stevens wrote in an email that for the winter events, gear is always provided to those who attend so that doesn’t prevent them from joining.
“Whether it’s their first time or they may not personally have the gear, we want to make sure they feel welcome and have a chance to experience our incredible public land,” Stevens wrote.
Gray said people are always best off to ask relevant agencies if they have questions about what they are or aren’t allowed to do on public lands. He also added that being responsible and researching information ahead of time can be a good way to know what is closed and what the rules of the area you plan to visit are. Boyd also added that it isn’t just respect for these spaces, but for the animals who live there that makes this kind of education important.
“We do have things that people can do to minimize negative impacts to wildlife. Decisions you make about your own behavior can have a big impact on wildlife, for good or for bad,” Boyd said. “I think anytime you can stay a respectful distance is good…You don’t need a selfie of yourself next to a black bear.”
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