Feb 4, 2022
The ambitious America the Beautiful plan seeks to conserve and restore 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030
IN A SUNNY, JUNIPER-COVERED ARROYO on the Caja del Rio plateau in northern New Mexico, orange lichen on a basalt boulder frames an ancient petroglyph: a raptor, its wings outstretched in flight.
Carved on these rocks centuries ago, raptors such as hawks and eagles along with dozens of other kinds of animals—mule deer, roadrunners, lizards and rattlesnakes—still swoop, scamper and slither across the Caja del Rio plateau today. Its 104,349 acres of cactus, forests and grasslands connect five mountain ranges as well as the Upper Rio Grande and Santa Fe rivers. This intersection of habitats makes the plateau one of North America’s most ecologically rich wildlife corridors. It is also an intersection of culture and history for the Indigenous peoples who have lived here for more than 10,000 years, the Spanish explorers who traveled through on the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro and the more modern European settlers.
“The Caja is incredibly important on a spiritual, cultural and psychological level to so many people,” says Andrew Black, public lands field director for the National Wildlife Federation. As a Presbyterian minister, Black imbues his conservation work with what he calls “deeper, collaborative spiritual work.” Recently, he brought together 112 Tribal and spiritual leaders in New Mexico who are asking for permanent protection of the Caja. In October 2021, the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society passed a unanimous resolution supporting protection, noting that “to encounter the diverse array of birds, reptiles and mammals that live and move through the Caja is to have a sacred encounter.”