01/29/2013 05:37 pm ET Updated Mar 31, 2013

Green Groups Must Embrace Latinos' Concern for Environment

The numbers are consistent in survey after survey: When it comes to the environment, Latinos show far more interest in conservation issues and stronger pollution laws than their Anglo counterparts.

The annual poll of conservation attitudes in the western United States by Colorado College found that Hispanics strongly supported efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to improve clean air standards by a 21 percent margin over white voters: 69 percent of Hispanics voiced strong support compared to 48 percent of whites.

A survey by the University of Southern California and Los Angeles Times reported that 50 percent of Latino respondents said they "personally worry a great deal about global warming," compared to 27 percent of whites polled.

One in six people in the U.S. -- 50 million people -- identify as Hispanic/Latino. In the Latino community, conservation is not an issue of the left or the right. It is a subject deeply entwined with family and cultural values.

That concern for the environment and those growing demographic numbers give Latinos the potential to be one of America's most powerful voices for conservation, clean air and clean water.

The most recent elections demonstrated the clout of Latino communities in electing state and federal leaders and influencing the issues they expect those leaders to address.

If the conservation efforts of the past few years have taught us anything, it's that environmental groups have to do more to broaden our bases of support and make a greater effort to inform and engage all communities.

Today, perhaps more than at any time in our past, Audubon and other conservation groups need to engage the next generation of community advocates and conservationists to join the effort in protecting the environment for wildlife and humans.

Audubon's work on behalf of birds, other wildlife and the environment depends a broad-based approach. While our legacy is built on science, education and advocacy, our greatest strength always has been the power of the Audubon network to unite states and hemispheric partners in on-the-ground conservation.

We recently launched Audubon en español, including social media outreach, as the digital face of Audubon in the Spanish-speaking community to better serve our growing partnerships in the U.S. Latino community and to promote our efforts to protect the environment for birds and people across the Americas.

We hope to expand the passion for the environment that we see every day in the Latino communities where we work, from South Phoenix to East L.A. to Lawrence, Mass.

For example, in the predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods of East Austin, Texas, local residents worked to transform Blair Woods, a 10-acre wetland that had become overtaken by litter and invasive plants, into a healthy habitat for birds, other wildlife and people.

It also became an outdoor classroom for students from nearby Norman Elementary School where we helped develop an experimental curriculum to raise awareness of the value of wetlands, habitat restoration and species management.

That project, and others throughout the country, is supported by our Toyota TogetherGreen program, which identifies and invests in emerging conservation leaders, including many who are Hispanic and Latino.

There's another major component of our partnership with Latino communities. Birds know no borders. They traverse the entire length of the Americas from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of Argentina.

Audubon is expanding its focus throughout the hemisphere, working to protect the birds that spend their summers in the United States and Canada and their winters in Central and South America.

Latin American participation in the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count -- which has become an invaluable scientific tool in measuring the health of bird populations and the effects of climate change -- is growing rapidly, particularly in Argentina, Colombia and Ecuador.

These partnerships will be even more critical in the coming decades as we work to preserve and protect our communities and the planet for future generations.

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