Fabian Garcia, a U.S. Forest Service employee for eight years, intimately understands the connection between nature and nurture.
As a young Latino growing up in an agricultural community in central California, Garcia’s world revolved around the outdoors. When he, his parents and three siblings were not working, they were fishing in nearby lakes and streams, exploring giant sequoias that towered over forests or traveled just to play in the snow.
Today, Garcia, who is now 31, works with high school students in Los Angeles as director of the Southern California Consortium – the Forest Service conduit that helps young people connect to nature. His job has helped him to understand how his childhood connection to nature gave him peace of mind and eagerly shares his experiences with others.
“I tell young people, ‘Realize that you are nature.’ In other words, we’re not separate from it. It’s not foreign to us,” he said. “We should get to know ourselves a lot better, and the best way to do that is to surround ourselves with nature so that it gives us time to find ourselves and build peace within ourselves.”
The connection to nature is especially low for young Latinos. Statistically, Latinos now make up 23 percent of the under-18 population in the United States yet only 5.8 percent of youth who participate in outdoor recreation are Hispanic, according a report by The Outdoor Foundation.
Naturally, the Forest Service is concerned about that number, especially given that most Americans live within 200 miles of a national forest or grassland.
To help bridge that gap, the Forest Service and the Advertising Council recently launched a Descubre el Bosque public service advertising campaign aimed to help Latinos develop a love of nature and understand their role in protecting it. Descubre el Bosque is the Spanish-language version of Discover the Forest. The Descubre el Bosque campaign includes Spanish-language print, radio and television ads that depict a Latino family exploring the outdoors.
The consortium works with six L.A.-area high schools and organizations in San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Each fall, 36 students help the Forest Service and other agencies at the Los Angeles County Fair, talking to fair goers about natural resources. Each summer, 18 young people head to the Angeles National Forest, which is just two hours from Los Angeles, to work on trails, learn first-hand about natural resources and, for many, experience silence.
The first two days in the woods for the Los Angeles kids sometimes takes some adjustment.
“They are a little freaked out at the silence,” Garcia said smiling. “Then they see wildlife jumping about and they shout, “Oh, my, what is that? Will that attack me?’ You look over, and it’s a deer. It’s intimidating to go to a new place. But the experience they have will stay with them for a lifetime.”