At the co-op, we believe the outdoors is a place to find common ground with people from all backgrounds and political affiliations. When it comes to politics, REI maintains a strongly nonpartisan stance. At the same time, we do support an active electorate.
The purpose of the Representing the Outdoors series is to educate our readers about their elected officials and the outdoor issues that matter to them. To produce the series, we asked policymakers the same set of nine questions about the outdoors. These are their responses. If there is a Congressperson who advocates for the outdoors that you’d like to see interviewed here, please let us know in the comments below.
The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of Representative Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Co-op Journal or REI. To view Representative Luján‘s voting record, please click here.
What’s one of your most memorable outdoor experiences, and why?
The tranquility of walking a stream, fly rod in hand, and spending the day outdoors in New Mexico. These are experiences that leave you more balanced and appreciative for the serenity of our public lands.
What’s your favorite piece of outdoor gear and what do you love about it?
What are the outdoor places in your state or district that people should visit?
New Mexico is home to some of the most beautiful and unique landscapes in the country. The San Juan River, the Upper Pecos and Costilla Creek are great for fly fishing. Chaco Culture National Historical Park, the Valles Caldera National Preserve, Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, White Sands National Monument, or the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument are a few of the must-visit parks and monuments in New Mexico that will leave you breathless. My recommendation would be to stop for some Hatch green chile when you visit!
What are the most pressing conservation and stewardship issues our country currently faces?
Conservation and stewardship are more critical now than ever. With efforts from those in power to sell these lands off to the highest bidders, we must fight back against these efforts and ensure our public lands can be enjoyed for generations to come—and that includes addressing climate change.
What role can the outdoors play in promoting health and well-being among U.S. citizens?
With millions of acres of public lands across America, there are ample opportunities for Americans to get outside, enjoy that fresh air, and embark on adventures. As a New Mexican, I’ve always enjoyed hiking and mountain biking on our public lands with family and friends. Public lands help us stay active and connect with nature.
What do you see as the biggest threat to public lands and waters today?
The urgent threat of the climate crisis poses a major risk to America’s public lands and waters—and climate change won’t be resolved without bold, decisive action to bolster the clean energy economy, cut methane pollution and promote renewable energy. Communities across the country are already seeing the dire effects of climate change, and it’s time that we all demand climate action now to protect our public lands and waters.
Why is access to public lands, parks and waters important to you?
There is nothing more peaceful and grounding as exploring our public lands. My appreciation for the generations that came before us—who had the vision to protect these sacred places for future generations—is endless. We all have a responsibility to protect our home and leave things better than when we found them. Our public lands help drive local economies, bring communities and families together, and remind us of the natural beauty of our country.
What impact does the outdoor recreation economy stand to make nationwide?
The burgeoning outdoor recreation economy is a unique and exciting opportunity to grow America’s economy and create green, good-paying jobs for our families and young people. In New Mexico, the outdoor recreation economy is booming, and we’re seeing a renewed love among young people for both getting outdoors and protecting our environment.
What’s a policy solution for the outdoors you’re working on?
Last year, I helped fight to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund—and we were successful! I’m continuing my efforts to protect our public lands and sacred sites from drilling and extraction, including the greater Chaco Canyon region in New Mexico—and working toward solutions for the climate crisis.