For Santa Fe County Commissioner Camilla Bustamante, protecting the Caja del Rio is a community health and mental health issue.

“I was taught, culturally, being connected with the land helps a person be connected with themselves,” she said.

“It is about being who you are because of where you are,” she said to applause at a Caja del Rio Coalition event Friday evening.

A panel of leaders gathered at El Rancho de Las Golondrinas to discuss the cultural and ecological significance of the Caja del Rio, a 106,000-acre area one panelist described as grasslands, piñon juniper and cactus forests, mountains and river canyons between the Rio Grande and Santa Fe rivers.

The panelists emphasized different assets of the Caja del Rio but emphasized one thing: the need for its permanent protection. The U.S. Forest Service manages about 67,000 acres of it, and the federal Bureau of Land Management manages the remainder.

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