Ever wondered how you can do more for public lands but you aren’t sure where to start? Outdoor Alliance’s Outdoor Allies series explores how other outdoor adventurers got their start in advocacy work and their advice for how you can harness your passion for the outdoors into advocacy for the land and water you love. Gabe Vasquez serves as a city councilor in Las Cruces, New Mexico, home to the Organ Mountain Desert Peaks National Monument, and is the deputy state director for The Wilderness Society and founder of the Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project. He is also Outdoor Alliance’s newest board member.
Tell us about what you like to do outside.
I’m an avid angler, hunter, and hiker and I just recently started gravel riding and mountain biking. My most memorable experiences on public lands have come from fishing and hunting, experiences that have left a lasting impact on me and continue to teach me about the relationship between land, wildlife, and the human role and impact. New Mexico is home to many landscapes and biological communities, each special in its own way. From the high, dry deserts to the upland watersheds and towering canyons of volcanic basalt flows, New Mexico offers amazingly diverse experiences for outdoor recreation.
When did you first start doing advocacy work?
As field staff for U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, I first worked on conservation advocacy on the legislative side while working on the campaign to designate the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument. At that time, we were working with advocates and other Congressional offices to draw the boundaries for the monument, engage in meaningful discussions with a diverse variety of users in our community, and work on proclamation language that was inclusive of all different cultures, users, and traditional uses. I have been working on advocacy and policy in one way or another for the last nine years.
You have no shortage of advocacy on your plate right now! What are the big issues you’re working on as both city councilor and deputy state director?
As a city councilor, I’m striving to bring economic opportunity to my community and district, which includes bolstering our city’s outdoor recreation efforts. I’m also working to bring the city’s largest natural open space in an urban setting to my district, build a new skatepark, and ensure that every young person in our community has a chance to succeed. As deputy state director for The Wilderness Society, I’m working on the Gila National Forest revision plan, Otero Mesa, the Permian Basin, and a campaign in Albuquerque to make federal public lands more accessible to underserved communities.
Can you share more about how social justice shapes your approach to conservation work?
Three years ago I started the Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project as a way to connect Hispanic communities to federal public lands and outdoor recreation, knowing how much my own experiences on the land and water have shaped my life and influenced the way I think about conservation. You can listen to my podcast there and see the range of issues that intersect with conservation and social justice that I and the Nuestra Tierra volunteers are passionate about. This year, I worked with New Mexico State Rep. Angelica Rubio to create the first-of-its kind Outdoor Equity Fund, a private-public fund that will provide micro-grants to urban, rural, and Native American communities across the state to help power their outdoor recreation and outdoor education programs that serve low-income youth. My vision has always been that in order to get people to be the next generation of stewards of our lands and waters, we need to first make them accessible and introduce people to these places and experiences.
A lot of people we work with want to do more to protect places they care about but don’t know where to start. What advice do you have for where a new advocate can begin?
Look to your local community. Get started by reaching out to a local conservation organization and find out what issues they’re working on, and share your thoughts about advocacy efforts that are important to you. Get involved as a volunteer or sign up on their mailing list so you can be prepared to take action when it counts. But also, look to your local, state, and federal legislators and see what initiatives they have supported (or not), and connect with them to share your opinion. Also, get involved with organizations like the Outdoor Alliance and sign up for mailing lists that will give you the news and information you need to take action. Lastly, take someone new outside, tell them why you care about the land, and create more advocates.
Favorite place in New Mexico to get outside:
Coronado National Forest in the NM Bootheel
Next destination on your bucket list:
Current favorite piece of gear:
Exo Mountain Gear K2 Backpack