By Sergio Avila
Local Outdoors Coordinator, Sierra Club
Hola! I want to introduce myself as a new staff member at Sierra Club and describe the goals and opportunities in this new position. I will dive deeper into these goals and opportunities in future articles, but for now let me tell you a bit more about myself.
When I was growing up, I dreamed of becoming a big-cat biologist, inspired by books, TV shows and visits to the zoo. I achieved my dream thanks to the support of my parents, my curiosity for science and willingness to move to where big-cat projects were available. As a wildlife biologist, I have studied jaguars, ocelots, and mountain lions both in Mexico and the United States. I have also worked with Cactus-ferruginous pygmy owls, Monarch butterflies, California sea lions, and rattlesnakes.
However, my personal and professional experiences go beyond research of endangered or protected wildlife. In 1997-98 I lived with the largest Indigenous community in Mexico: the Tarahumara people (Raramuri) of the Sierra Madre of Chihuahua, the Mexican state that borders New Mexico. There I learned about the diverse cultural values and stories from Indigenous and Native people, which are not included in scientific, Western education. A new world opened to me.
In 2003 I came to work for The University of Arizona and became aware of the ecological impacts of heightened law enforcement along the international border, in addition to the social-justice issues for migrants and local communities. Since then, I’ve witnessed the destruction of wildlife habitats and corridors by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, while the national narrative is that of fear and disregard for environmental laws. Around that time I started volunteering with the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter, speaking in support of reintroduction Mexican gray wolves, protection of jaguar corridors across the border, and defending mountain lions the state wildlife agency wanted to eliminate in Sabino Canyon.
I now work for the national Sierra Club in a team called Outdoor Activities, within a section called “Volunteer Engagement.” My focus is to support staff and volunteers in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Utah, with the mission to connect all people with the natural world and with the Sierra Club, by maintaining and enhancing diversified, superior, volunteer-run outdoor activities that support the Sierra Club’s conservation mission.
Sierra Club envisions a just, equitable and sustainable future where all people benefit from a healthy thriving planet and a direct connection to nature. We are on a path to break the paradigm of environmental conservation and social justice as separate issues. I intend to strengthen the connection between conservation advocacy and outdoor recreation in order to dismantle the incomplete and limiting ways that mainstream conservation organizations separate issues.
You may be familiar with the Jemez Principles for democratic organizing — we will make sure everyone knows them and knows how to incorporate them in their work. Similarly, we will integrate the practice of Land Acknowledgements as “a simple, powerful way of showing respect and a step toward correcting the stories and practices that erase Indigenous people’s history and culture and toward inviting and honoring the truth.”
I am very interested to hear from outings chairs, leaders and advocates on the needs, ideas and practices they’d like to bring into their activities. I look forward to hearing from you and meeting you on the trail.