On Aug. 16, 2016, Former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar was appointed to head Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton on if Bill should’ve resigned over Lewinsky scandal: ‘Absolutely not’ Electoral battle for Hispanics intensifies in Florida Trump adds campaign stops for Senate candidates in Montana, Arizona, Nevada MORE’s transition team to help her prepare for an orderly transition should she be elected our nation’s 45th President. It is clear from Salazar’s accomplishments that he will be indispensable to help move forward seamlessly with implementing Clinton’s progressive -- and inclusive – agenda for the country.

As head of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), Secretary Salazar led the first-ever large-scale effort within the agency to ensure that America’s national parks and monuments reflect the history, culture, and experiences of all Americans. He worked with communities across the country to ensure the President heard their calls for new monuments that honor Cesar Chavez and the farm workers movement, Colonel Charles Young and the Buffalo Soldiers, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, Fort Monroe and the fight for emancipation, and Chimney Rock in Colorado, a sacred site for American Indians.

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As a Latina, I am particularly aware of Ken Salazar’s concern for Latino communities across the Western U.S.  With an eye toward the ongoing impact of drought and limited water supplies, he advocated for balanced energy and water policies at DOI that made sustaining the Colorado River, a foundation of Southwestern Latino culture, a priority.  Polling released by Nuestro Rio has shown consistently that nearly 75 percent of Colorado Latinos believe that it is very important “that the government help protect our community’s rivers and lakes for family recreation and the overall well-being of the environment.”

In addition to his focus on Latino inclusivity, in May 2012 he introduced a Secretarial initiative to focus new national park sites on the untold lives and accomplishments of women in America.

Salazar’s efforts to expand the diversity represented in our national public lands have clearly played an influential role in the formation of the Next 100 Coalition initiative, a first-of-its-kind coalition of civil rights, environmental justice, conservation and community leaders from across the country.  As the National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday in 2016, the Coalition is calling on President Obama to issue a Presidential Memorandum that lays forth a vision over the next 100 years, rooted in diversity and inclusivity.   

The compelling reasons to accomplish this vision are evident in a new report from the Hispanic Access Foundation, “The Next Colorado: Ensuring Access to Parks and Public Lands for Growing and Diverse Populations.” The report shows that the next century of conservation for Colorado needs to focus on protecting its public lands and ensuring access for its growing and diverse population. The state’s rapid growth is putting increased pressure on its public lands, where only 10 percent are permanently protected. Without protecting new areas and engaging Latinos and young people as the stewards of tomorrow, Colorado risks losing valuable natural treasures that provide significant natural, cultural, heritage and economic value.

Moreover, a new national poll by nonprofit New America Media, “An Untapped Resource: Our National Public Lands and the New America,” reveals that a broad spectrum of people of color overwhelmingly support public lands, despite an information gap that keeps many from accessing them. The poll found that 92 percent of African-American, Asian-American, and Latino voters approve of President Obama’s steps to protect public lands, and that 93 percent believe it is important for the next president to do so as well.

It has been said that the fate of our national public lands rests in the hands of communities of color that are fast becoming the majority in this country. It is therefore in our best collective interests as a nation to honor and respect the full diversity of peoples that have shaped the course of American history and culture.

In his tenure at the Department of the Interior, Ken Salazar repeatedly did that and has shown that he is sensitive to the full diversity of people who live in America, whose history has richly added to America’s story, and reflected that diversity in national public lands.

I count him as a friend and a great ally for all Americans. His appointment by Hillary Clinton as transition leader signals the possibility of a new era where the federal government will prioritize diversity and usher in a new, truly inclusive future for our national public lands and Western water issues – and all of us.

Nita Gonzales is Colorado coordinator of Nuestro Rio, an organization representing Latinos living in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada devoted to the protection and sustainability of the Colorado River. Ms. Gonzales is also the president/CEO of Escuela Tlatelolco Centro de Estudios, a nationally recognized model for Chicano/Mexicano and indigenous education located in Denver. She is a founder of the Chicano/Mexicano Education Coalition, the Denver Youth Employment and Education Task Force, and co-founder of the Colorado Latino Forum.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.