WASHINGTON - When Arizona state Rep. Mark Cardenas gave his niece and nephew the choice between going to Disneyland and going camping in Sedona recently, they both chose camping.
Cardenas, a Phoenix Democrat, cited their choice as support for a new survey that shows Latinos in western states overwhelmingly support conservation efforts and the outdoors.
The survey was released Wednesday in Washington by HECHO - Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and Outdoors - a Latino-oriented outdoors group that said the poll shows that Hispanics are conservationists who need to have a voice.
"We're here to bring a voice to Latinos in conservation and to have a place at the table when it comes to decision-making on public lands," said HECHO Director Rod Torrez.
The survey, conducted by Latino Decisions, polled 400 registered Latino voters in New Mexico and Colorado, asking questions on environmental topics from conservation to recreation to public policy. The survey was taken between May 27 and June 10 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent.
It showed that a majority of Latinos in those states believe the government should protect public lands and they want to be consulted on land-policy issues. That is largely due to the "deep and enduring ties" many Hispanic families have to those states, said Gabriel Sanchez, Latino Decisions' director of research.
"There's a perception, and almost an expectation, that they will be acknowledged in this process because they perceive it's their land, going back eight, nine generations in some instances," Sanchez said.
More than 80 percent of the respondents said they feel a strong sense of familial connection to the land in New Mexico or Colorado.
"It's not just a policy preference issue for Hispanics in these two states," Sanchez said. "It's very personal because their families are connected to this land."
That's not to say that Latinos in Arizona don't care about the environment: A 2012 survey by Colorado College's State of the Rockies Project found 51 percent of the Arizona Latinos identified as conservationists, compared to 60 percent of all Arizonans polled. Latinos in that poll also showed the most support for protecting natural resources and wildlife in the state, with 61 percent saying more should be done.
"We as Latinos are conservationists and we didn't even know it," Cardenas said.
But Cardenas and others said they are concerned that young Latinos, much like other groups of young people, are not as involved in conservation and recreation as older generations.
Cardenas said he was fortunate to have parents who took him on trips outdoors. But he said that in his district - an urban area of 215,000 people - he has not seen much outreach to families attempting to teach them about conversation and recreation.
"We've started programs in our area saying, 'Well, you know what, let's have a fishing day when the state will waive your fishing license,'" Cardenas said.
He is planning to hold such an event with the city of Avondale in August, not only waiving license fees but also providing poles and lunch, so that as many families as possible can participate.
He especially wants to focus on getting children involved in outdoors activities when they are still young.
"At that point you begin to start developing your next generation of outdoorsmen and conservationists, realizing that it's fun to be outdoors," Cardenas said.
He said that effort has to be made "because the simple demographics of my area, especially in the Latino communities, don't always have the extra funds available to go outdoors." But he thinks it can pay off.
"With a little push I think we can get them there," Cardenas said.