By Luis Guerrero, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter Legislative and Political Organizer
New Mexico is full of rich lands that are worth protecting. From every corner of the State, you can admire our deserts, forests, rivers, lakes, and everything that makes New Mexico the Land of Enchantment.
The 107,068 acres on this plateau known as Caja del Rio are managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. These are sacred lands for the area’s pueblos. Caja del Rio is principally piñon-juniper savanna and grassland, with canyons plunging into the Santa Fe River and other tributaries of the Rio Grande. The land is dotted with cinder cones and features a dramatic basalt escarpment rich with petroglyphs. Caja is one of the most ecologically rich wildlife corridors in New Mexico. It provides vital habitat for a diverse range of plants and animals. The Caja is one of the last great opportunities to protect the West as it has existed for thousands of years.
Caja del Rio has an important significance to local and indigenous peoples in the area. Cochiti, Tesuque, Kewa (Santo Domingo) and Jemez Pueblos all have part in the rich history and cultural importance of this area of land. The Caja is also a critical crossroads for wildlife, connecting the northern edge of Cochiti Pueblo, the eastern edge of Bandelier National Monument and the uplands of the Valles Caldera National Preserve with valuable winter habitat. Nineteen miles of wild and untamed Rio Grande intersect the two landscapes, providing a critical migratory route for waterfowl, raptors, songbirds, bighorn sheep, elk, deer, bear and cougar.
Here are just a few of the reasons why protecting Caja is crucial to the well-being of public lands in New Mexico:
- The natural character of the Caja del Rio supports wildlife diversity and connectivity.
- Protecting Caja del Rio maintains the cultural and archeological integrity found there, while providing interpretive opportunities for the public to learn and value these resources in an area easily accessible to metropolitan Santa Fe.
- The biological and cultural value of the area is recognized by locals and visitors.
- Education and recreation opportunities exist with national historic trails that have local and national interest, including the Camino Real del Tierra Adentro and Route 66.
- Existing utility line corridors will be maximized for additional utility line needs. If Caja is protected, new utility corridors and communication sites will not be allowed.
The Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, along with other local organizations, is working to preserve this beautiful land and the species that live and thrive in it. In the coming months, we hope to participate in vital conversations and grassroots actions at the local level to ensure this land is protected. To become a part of our active grassroots team, please contact Luis at email@example.com.
Join us in the fight to protect and preserve access to Public Lands in New Mexico!
Photo by Teresa Seamster