Progress on Public Lands Preservation!
On November 30th, 2022, President Joe Biden made an exciting announcement that he plans to designate lands known as Avi Kwa Ame in Southern Nevada as our country’s next national monument. The news is a victory for Southern Nevada Tribes and community leaders in the Silver State who treasure this biologically diverse and culturally sacred area.
Here in New Mexico, similar efforts are growing among a broad coalition of environmental stewards who are advocating for permanent protection of 105,000 acres of land west of Santa Fe known as the Caja del Rio. Carmichael Dominguez, Community Organizer at Earthkeepers 360 and a leading community advocate for the Caja del Rio, celebrated the news by saying:
“It’s exciting to see President Biden prioritize public lands protection through his latest commitment to designating Avi Kwa Ame in Southern Nevada as our country’s next national monument. We join our fellow community members across the west in celebrating the President’s action and hope it is just the beginning of a long public land preservation legacy that all Americans can be proud of. That should include supporting our efforts right here in New Mexico to permanently protect more than 105,000 acres of land known as the Caja del Rio. As we celebrate the news today, we encourage our elected officials and policymakers to make the protection of the Caja del Rio a priority.”Carmichael Dominguez, Community Organizer at Earthkeepers 360
A robust coalition of Tribal leaders, community stakeholders, local businesses, cultural & environmental conservation groups, recreation advocates, and long-time New Mexico natives 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.
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. Even today, the Caja del Rio is 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 the Caja del Rio.
The Caja was also a historically significant trade route that ran from Mexico City to the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo located north of Santa Fe. The El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, a nationally recognized historic trail, was used by Indigenous traders and Spanish colonists from 1598 to 1881 with well-worn tracks, swales, and other reminders of travelers etched into the landscape. Three centuries after El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro was established, passage through the Caja became part of Route 66, the historic national scenic byway running from Chicago to Los Angeles.
But now, more than ever, the Caja del Rio needs our protection. 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 community 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.