In the late 90’s I was working as a forestry subcontractor, planting trees on clearcut paper company and National Forest lands in Montana and Idaho. My last full season (April-June), my work partner and I were the only native English-speakers on the thirty-or-so man crew. It was a good season, and we made good money. Also, I got to know a bunch of Mexican treeplanters who became my friends, and I learned something about what it is like to come from a country whose government has failed, in almost every measurable way, to govern on behalf of its people.
The guys I worked with were mostly legal, and most of them were from rural Mexico, where intense physical labor like treeplanting is the norm, and the ability to bust out the work from can’t see to can’t see is the measure of a man. Almost all of them were interested in hunting and fishing, and in the wildlife that we saw every day at work. Mule deer were ‘buras,’ whitetails were ‘cola-blancas,’ trout were ‘truchas’ and admired for their beauty. Bighorns- ‘borregos’ – were much respected, and the tracks that followed them- of the puma were studied with fascination. Where these men came from, hunting was the sole province of rich sports with guides who hunted protected private lands. Owning a big game rifle- even possessing ammo- was prohibited, and there was hardly any game, anyway, since a hungry nation thinks of the soup pot first – just as we did during the Great Depression. Fishing in Mexico, other than in the saltwater, has much declined due to pollution, overfishing, lack of resource protection. These were country people, though, and their connections to the landscape and the weather, and the essentials, clean water, open spaces, fertile ground, were strong.
In forty years, a low estimate of the US population will be 438 million. 29% of those people- one out of three- will be of Hispanic origin. Of the 117 million new Americans, 67 million will be immigrants, and fifty million will be the children of those immigrants. These will be people who come from nations where conservation is basically unknown. Where environmental protection is mostly a sham, or unknown. Where hunting and fishing are no longer a part of the culture.
My friends on the treeplanting crew had no idea why there were herds of mule deer on the Idaho hillsides. Why there were elk in the high country, or trout in rivers that ran almost as clear as they did in the days of Lewis and Clark. They had no idea why you could fill up your Gott cooler from the pump in the campground or the tap at the hotel, and drink your fill. For that matter, they had no idea why US policemen did not stop them, drag them from their cars and demand they pay a fine of all they had, for an invented infraction. The people who will share America with us have no idea how we got all the things they have come here to enjoy. Why our country is not like the one they fled. Unless we reach out to them, recruit them into hunting and fishing, they will never learn. Even if some of them become environmentalists here, sharing our awe of the rivers and forests and wildlife, they will never have the deep connections to, and understanding of, wildlife and fish that hunters and fishermen have.
We need a Spanish language Field and Stream, a Spanish-speaking Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, a Spanish language Trout Unlimited, BASS, National Trapper’s Association, and on and on. State agencies need to publish hunting and fishing regulations and information in Spanish. Do I believe that every immigrant should adopt English as their primary language? Yes. But my belief does not change the reality that many of those who would buy hunting and fishing licenses, who could become invested in conservation, speak Spanish. And reality is what we are here to discuss.
So far, the trend has gone the other way. Only Texas has a Spanish language version of its hunting and fishing regs, and that one is only available online. Arizona had its regs in Spanish until 2006, when the expense of producing a translated copy of regs that change every year was deemed too much. Now, Arizona has a law that state agencies will produce their documents only in English- a seemingly reasonable law that will backfire (as so many laws based in how we wish the world would be, rather than as it is, tend to do). California has no Spanish language hunting and fishing regs, and its bilingual information specialist now works elsewhere. New Mexico has no Spanish version of its hunting and fishing regs. All bemoan the lack of recruitment of hunters and anglers, the declining license revenues that are, in all states but Missouri and Arkansas, (more on this later) the sole support for fish and wildlife programs and habitat in our country.
We can fight illegal immigration, and we must. We can demand that immigrants speak English, and we must. But we cannot crawl down the rabbithole of prejudice. We cannot fail to widen the tent of hunter and angler conservationists, or we will watch the tent and all it has sheltered, blow away. We will become like the places that our newest citizen fled.
While we are at it, let’s print 12 million US Constitutions in Spanish, too, and in Urdu, Pashto, Arabic- whatever it takes. There is no time to waste.