In summary

As California attempts to conserve 30% of state land and coastal waters by 2030, expansion of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument would be a significant step, especially for Latinos in the L.A. area who lack access to open spaces.

Guest Commentary written by

Mike Gomez

Mike Gomez

Mike Gomez is a pastor at Calvary Chapel Assembly of God in Los Angeles. He is also a member of Por La Creación, a coalition of Latino faith leaders working to protect the nation’s natural resources.

My sister and I grew up in south Los Angeles with our mother, and we moved around the city frequently. I remember looking forward to long weekends and the summer when we’d go camping and hiking – I loved spending time with my mother and sister in nature.

I also looked forward to winters, when we’d head to the San Gabriel Mountains to play in the snow. To this day these mountains provide a place of healing and bring me peace, and I particularly love the region’s beautiful waterfalls. 

Although California is home to countless natural treasures, Latinos and other people of color are twice as likely to be deprived of parks, trails and other open space close to home. This so-called “nature gap” and the global, catastrophic loss of biodiversity stem from the same root cause: the destruction and degradation of natural areas in and around communities of color. 

In 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom set a goal of protecting at least 30% of the state’s lands and coastal waters by 2030. This is part of a global “30×30” effort which recognizes that protecting biodiversity and expanding equitable access to nature are both inherent to addressing the climate crisis.

Some progress has been made. Last year the state protected 631,000 acres of land. However, this is just 11% of what’s needed to reach 30×30 by the state’s own estimate. 

In order to achieve the goal, California must move quickly to protect large swaths of landscapes that are close to dense, urban communities where too many people lack access to parks or other natural, open space in their neighborhoods.

The 20-year effort to protect the San Gabriel Mountains is gaining momentum, and that’s an exciting step in the right direction. U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla and Rep. Judy Chu recently called on President Biden to add 109,000 acres of public lands to the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

Expanding the national monument would increase access for more than 18 million people who live within a 90-mile radius, conserving important habitat and protecting key wildlife corridors. These lands are adjacent to the San Fernando Valley, which has a majority Latino population and some of the most limited park access in the county. 

The expansion would also protect species such as black bears, mountain lions, coyotes, bighorn sheep, and mule deer. 

Notably, the proposed expansion includes a significant portion of the western Angeles National Forest, which is one of the most visited parts of the forest. According to the U.S. Forest Service, 4.6 million people visited in 2021 – more than the Grand Canyon or Yosemite National Park that year. 

Latinos are incredibly passionate about spending time in and protecting nature. Last month, thousands of Latino families, young people and elders mobilized across California to clean up local rivers, picnic, bird watch and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors, as part of the 10th annual Latino Conservation Week. Community members expressed a common sentiment throughout the week, declaring that nature is precious, and we must ensure these beloved places are here for future generations.

Everyone needs access to natural, open spaces where they can connect with loved ones. Expanding the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument will help protect this special region for future generations, and help the state keep pace with its environmental goals.

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