SAF Supports Hispanic Heritage Month

October 14, 2022

In coordination with our Diversity and Inclusion Policy, the Society of American Foresters (SAF) is committed to promoting an environment designed to embrace our differences in which all community members are welcomed and valued, creating diversity and inclusion in our leadership, membership, programs, and activities. SAF is making an intentional effort in 2022 to be more inclusive in the way we celebrate community members and connect with those who value forests and their benefits. 

Each year National Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from September 15 to October 15 in the United States. This year, the National Council of Hispanic Employment Program Managers (NCHEPM) announced the 2022 Hispanic Heritage Month Observance Theme: “Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation.” As NCHEPM writes, this theme “encourages us to ensure that all voices are represented and welcomed to help build stronger communities and a stronger nation.” Inclusivity was also a theme that rippled through the presentations and conversations at the 2022 SAF National Convention held in late September. It is the mark of a shift in our professional community toward the recognition that each of us is better served through an environment that fosters inclusion.

National Hispanic Heritage Month commemorates the history, culture, and contributions of Americans with ancestry from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. Importantly, not all individuals with ancestry from these regions and nations identify as Hispanic; though Latino is sometimes used interchangeably with Hispanic, many individuals identify with the terms Latino, Latina, or Latinx for a variety of cultural reasons. The USDI National Park Service’s book Hispanic Reflections on the American Landscape provides important cultural background on this topic, including how Hispanic heritage and history has shaped the geography of America.

Hispanic and Latino leaders have been instrumental in shaping America’s forests from the onset of the profession at the turn of the 20th century. In 1900, Jacinto Reyes became the first Hispanic ranger on Los Pinos Ranger District, known today as the Mt. Pinos Ranger District, within the Los Padres National Forest. He was ahead of his time as an advocate for reforestation, a policy not to be officially adopted by the agency until 1910. José Marrero Torrado  is another celebrated figure in history of America’s forestlands. Working with the USDA Forest Service throughout the 1950s and ‘60s, Torrado was central in the creation of Caribbean Tropical Forestry and to the rehabilitation of degraded lands in Puerto Rico. The Hispanic and Latino communities continue to play an increasingly large role in natural resource management, with current estimates showing that they represent over 18% of forestry and conservation workers in the United States.

Many of the Hispanic and Latino forestry professionals working in United States are traveling and immigrating from Central and South America for seasonal work. Many of these immigrant forest workers, or pineros, perform the essential and manually intensive management activities such as reforestation, piling and thinning brush, fuels reduction, and pest control. Nonimmigrant HB2 guest workers are also essential members of the workforce in the forestry sector—particularly for reforestation efforts—and are almost exclusively hired from Mexico and Central America. Despite their essential role in helping to meet the growing challenge of workforce capacity for issues like large-scale restoration and reforestation, pineros and HB2 guest workers have faced systemic issues of inequity that have until recently remained invisible to the public and forest policymakers. As Brinda Sarathy details in the Journal of Forestry, these workers often face “unsafe working conditions and have little recourse to the justice system on matters such as labor violations and workplace exploitation.” As we work toward a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive profession, addressing how we hire, support, and maintain our workforce will be critical. 

There are many organizations and networks seeking to foster and advance Hispanic representation in the forestry and natural resources professions. In 2018, the USDA Forest Service partnered with the Hispanic Access Foundation (HAF) to create a program called Forest Service Hispanic Access Resource Assistant Fellowship. As the HAF writes, “This partnership aims to build a strong community of inspired, skilled, motivated Latinx leaders through substantial work experience, building skills required for success in natural and cultural resource careers.” The Latino Heritage Internship Program (LHIP) was created by the National Park Service (NPS) in partnership with Environment for the Americas and is designed to provide paid internship opportunities to young adults in a variety of fields within the NPS. By partnering undergraduate and graduate students with professional staff in the NPS—be they biologists, historians, or researchers—LHIP introduces young Latino professionals to a variety career options that support our national park system.

As we face pressing environmental challenges like climate change and the wildfire crisis, the stewardship of our nation’s forests and rangelands is of mounting importance. Informing and engaging the widest variety of communities will play a central role in our management decisions if we are to find holistic, long-term solutions. Alongside a national network of natural resources professionals, SAF shares a duty both in understanding how race has shaped our landscape and in taking action to ensure a more inclusive future. 

"As National Hispanic Heritage Month comes to a close, SAF is proud to share with our members the accomplishments of our Latinx forestry community members and leaders,” states SAF CEO Terry Baker. “Our continuous efforts of sharing with our membership and the broader sector emphasize opportunities for understanding and engagement with communities that are vital to our ability to steward forests and natural areas into the future.”