On March 21st, 2023, the Biden administration followed through on their November 30th commitment of designating Avi Kwa Ame in Southern Nevada as our country’s next national monument. In addition to this historic victory, President Biden included Castner Range, located in West Texas, to the list of national monuments. The news is a victory for Southern Nevada, West Texas, and all Tribes and community leaders who treasure these biologically diverse and culturally sacred areas. We join our fellow conservationists and environmental advocates who are applauding the President’s action and hope such efforts continue to gain momentum as we work with our federal leaders to build a public land preservation legacy that all Americans can be proud of.
Here in New Mexico, similar efforts are growing among a broad coalition of environmental stewards who are tirelessly working towards the permanent protection of 105,000 acres of land west of Santa Fe known as the Caja del Rio.
A robust coalition of Tribal and Pueblo leaders, community stakeholders, local businesses, cultural & environmental conservation groups, recreation advocates, and long-time New Mexico locals are working together to advocate for the protection of the Caja del Rio. The coalition’s primary goal is simple; permanent and federal protection of the Caja with true Tribal consultation.
Similar to Avi Kwa Ame and Castner Range, the Caja offers unique opportunities for the surrounding community to experience, explore, and learn from nature. With picturesque mesas, dramatic river canyons, and abundant cacti forests, the Caja del Rio contains a remarkable biodiversity that has been critical to wildlife species as habitat, a migratory corridor, breeding grounds, and an area of relocation during changing climates for thousands of years. With multiple faults and tectonic zones formed by the Rio Grande Rift some two-five million years ago, the Caja contains significant geological sites found only in this Southwestern region of the United States.
Avi Kwa Ame, Castner Range, and the Caja del Rio are hosts to significant cultural sites documenting the history of Tribal Nations. Even today, these areas are held as a sacred space by the neighboring Pueblos and Native communities where thousands of petroglyphs and archaeological sites created by their Indigenous ancestors can be found. The etchings tell the stories of the sacred connection between the people, land, water, and wildlife that is interwoven to the cultures of these lands. Which is a pressing reminder for why these lands deserve preservation and why the Caja must be the next area to join the list of federally protected areas.
Recognized by the New Mexico Heritage Preservation Alliance as one of New Mexico’s “most endangered places,” the Caja faces numerous threats ranging from climate change and wildfires to petroglyph theft, vandalism, poaching, illegal dumping, and habitat fragmentation. Sadly, just a few weeks ago, the petroglyphs were vandalized again, which only reinforces the need for permanent, federal protection.
Creating permanent, federal protection of the Caja would provide regulations against illegal dumping, misuse, and potentially eliminate further threats of the archaeological sites and keep the delicate environmental habitats from reaching their tipping point. Establishing permanent, federal protection would allow the many communities of New Mexico to learn and experience the history of the Caja del Rio.
While the coalition continues to determine the most appropriate combination of administrative and legislative actions to safeguard this space, we encourage our elected officials and policymakers to make the protection of historical and culturally significant landscapes, like Caja del Rio, a priority.