Amanda Montez Joins Sempervirens Board

The first Latina to join the Sempervirens Fund Board of Directors has an idea or two about reaching out to nontraditional environmentalists.

By Traci Hukill

March 10, 2015—When Amanda Montez was a little girl growing up in Los Angeles, summer vacation meant loading up the family car and heading for the mountains. It was usually her dad’s idea. He was the outdoorsman in the family, always looking for new places to explore.

“We spent a lot of time traveling northbound for our camping and hiking and wintertime fun,” says Montez, now 32. “I remember my first trip to Joshua Tree and how different it was from the camping I was used to doing. We were usually surrounded by evergreens.”

Montez went on to study political communication and management at George Washington University in the Washington, D.C. area, eventually earning her master’s degree and landing a position as Legislative Analyst for the National Council of La Raza.

But when word came from her parents, who had since moved to the Bay Area, that her father had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, Montez returned to California. Among her positions since moving back: Community Outreach Specialist for the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (Midpen), where her job was to dialog with minority communities about the parks in the run-up to Measure AA, 2014’s $300 million bond supporting the work of Midpen.

Last week Montez, who now works on programs seeking to end chronic homelessness, became Sempervirens Fund’s newest board member.

“We are excited to have Amanda Montez join Sempervirens Fund’s Board. Her experience and passion for outreach to traditionally underserved communities combined with her knowledge of local open space issues adds great value,” said Fred Keeley, Sempervirens Fund Board President in a statement. “Not to mention that her energy and enthusiasm for connecting people with the redwood forests is contagious.”

'A Very Diverse Population'

Montez brings a valuable perspective to Sempervirens Fund, California’s oldest conservation group, as it pursues its mission to complete the Great Park, a 200-square-mile redwood ecosystem on the western side of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

“You can’t always assume everyone is the stereotypical tech worker,” she says of conservation work in the Bay Area. “We have a very diverse population.”

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One issue Montez faced at Midpen was the need to clarify to the immigrant community the role of park rangers as guardians of the parks rather than harassers of park visitors. Another was the language barrier. Having brochures in Spanish, Chinese and Korean made a difference. So did bilingual programming, which got non-English speakers directly engaged with parks and conservation.

“For us to have the next generation—which is incredibly diverse—as invested as past generations, we have to have relevant outreach, and that includes them in the role of stewardship,” she says.

“There’s lots of evidence that Latinos share the values of the environmental movement, but we need to make sure they have those resources available to them, whether they’re in East San Jose or Palo Alto.”

Montez clearly has insights on how to transform environmentalism from an “old white movement,” as one speaker put it at a Parks Forward forum in fall 2013, to a younger and more diverse one. But her commitment to inclusiveness is not limited to communities of color.

“One minority that sometimes gets overlooked is folks that don’t have full accessibility,” she says. “And we know Nature’s a great doctor.”

The accessibility issue was brought home to Montez when her father’s illness prevented him from getting out into the open spaces he loved so much. One place she and her mother found they could take him was Rancho San Antonio, Midpen’s popular park outside Cupertino, where paved sections could accommodate his limited mobility. He’s now buried at Gates of Heaven cemetery, close to the park.

That experience influenced her decision to get involved with Midpen’s community outreach. “I thought, ‘This is a way to give back to my family,’” she says.

Asked about her favorite place in the Great Park, Montez doesn’t hesitate. “I really like the overlook at Castle Rock. It’s really easy to get to super fast out of San Jose, where I’m located. And you can stand there and feel like you’re miles away from your everyday life.”


Nosy questions for Sempervirens Fund's newest board member.

HILLTROMPER: What's the first memory you have of being on an outdoorsy vacation with your family?

AMANDA MONTEZ: I have a very distinct memory of tent camping for the first time at Lake Cachuma (in Santa Barbara County) as a kindergartner with my cousins and thinking it was incredibly fun to use a flashlight with my mom to find the restroom at night. The next year I experienced my first true moment of awe when I visited Devil's Postpile National Monument and saw Rainbow Falls for the first time. I still have the postcard that I bought at the visitor's center.

What was your favorite activity as a kid?
I was either playing outside or reading fairy tales. We had a huge tree in our backyard where my dad had built a platform tree house for my brother (he's eight years older), and I used to love jumping out of it to see how far I could fly—a terrible combination of my book-fueled imagination and real life. My parents quickly put an end to it when they found out.

First word that comes to mind when you see an old-growth redwood.

If you could wave a wand and change one thing about our parks and open spaces, what would it be?
With one wave of the wand, I'd design a cloud that could carry ANYONE through our forests—we need more trails that can accommodate wheelchairs and walkers. Medically fragile children, people with disabilities and our senior population can't be ignored. EVERYONE needs fresh air and trees (whether they know it or not).

If I had a second wave of the wand, I would create better transportation options for our urban populations—there would be a magical portal that could transplant people immediately.

What's your sign? (It is Santa Cruz!)
I'm a Scorpio (November 12)!

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