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Our Column

  En español

The Natural Legacy
By Javier Sierra

Have you ever thought about your children's inheritance? Perhaps it will be a college education, your home or the family business. Or perhaps you are still working hard in order to realize one of these dreams for your child.

There is an inheritance, however, that is already there- that belongs to us all, and will belong to our children. That inheritance is our country's natural wonders- a monumental fortune of national parks and forests, of wildlife refuges and national monuments, scattered throughout the North American landscape.

These are the places that allow us to reconnect with nature, to enjoy it with our families or to simply meditate and celebrate this awesome artwork called planet Earth.

We Latinos have a special love for the outdoors and the many opportunities to enjoy them. According to a survey conducted in the Southwest, 71 percent of Latinos said protecting nature is not only a family value but a religious one as well.

But this legacy that we received from our parents is at risk of never making it to our children. The Bush administration and some members of Congress are working to dismantle the legal safeguards that have protected these natural jewels for decades from irresponsible oil and gas drilling, unsustainable logging, pollution and sprawl.

Special natural places that are endangered by the administration's policies exist in every state in America. However, we can help save many of these threatened natural treasures. I am going to comment on three places in the backyards of America's biggest Latino communities.

The sequoia forests in the California Sierras are perhaps the most amazing places I have ever seen in my life. The sequoias are the world's largest trees, and when you see them in person for the first time, they look like they are straight out of a fairy tale. In order to fathom the size of these cinnamon-colored giants, it is sufficient to say that the largest branch of the General Grant, the world's third largest sequoia, is bigger than any tree east of the Mississippi.

But parts of these forests are in grave peril because of a Bush administration initiative cruelly named "Healthy Forests." Under the pretext of reducing the risk of forest fires, this measure allows the harvesting of old-growth trees, like sequoias, which are natural wonders unlike anything else in the world.

In south Florida, there exists a "river of grass" called the Everglades. This explosion of plant and animal life is one of the biggest purifying and flood control systems in nature. An abundance of wetlands, pine forests, cypress stands and coastal forests of mangrove islands are home to an enormous variety of species, like the Florida panther, the black bear, alligators and many kinds of birds.

This wild mosaic, however, is threatened by the endless sprawl caused by south Florida's rapid population growth. Especially on its western side, the Everglades are constantly buried under new roads, residential complexes and golf courses. And species like the Florida panther, in severe danger of extinction, are the ones losing the game.

In northern New Mexico, the name Valle Vidal, which means "vital valley," is most apt for a place overflowing with dynamic life. The valley is in the heart of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, named because of the reddish cloak that covers the snowy summits during New Mexico's magic sunsets. The big stars of this natural spectacle are the black bear, the mountain lion, the bald eagle and New Mexico's largest elk herd.

But the Bush administration and some members of Congress have an appetite for oil and gas that threatens to drill the very soul of this beautiful valley. The Forest Service is considering opening 40,000 acres to oil and gas exploration. Scientific studies reveal that this kind of exploitation would pollute the valley's pristine waters and negatively impact its big game.

There are dozens upon dozens of these magic places throughout the country, like the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona, the Roan Plateau in Colorado, the Sloan Canyon in Nevada, the Staten Island Seashore in New York, the North Eastern Ecological Corridor in Puerto Rico or the Neches River in Texas.

We must all raise our voices to encourage official protection for these unique places, restoration for damaged lands, and sensible rules for development.

Failing to do this would be tantamount to denying our children their inheritance.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. The Sierra Club is America's oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization.

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