Protect Caja del Rio

Photo: US Forest Service

Outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, there is a volcanic plateau called Caja del Rio, where Spanish, American and Indigenous cultures come together. It is part of the Santa Fe National Forest and close to the Rio Grande. You will find birds and mammals living together as well as Native American cultural sites and petroglyphs from thousands of years ago. You can come across adventurers biking, climbing the rocks and riding horses. 

Caja del Rio contains an incredible amount of biodiversity. It has a wide variety of bird species, including kingbirds, larks and mockingbirds. The United States’ national birds, bald eagles, call this region home as well. Mammals include porcupines, black bears and bobcats. One endangered species native to Caja del Rio is the southwestern willow flycatcher; Gunnison’s prairie dogs may soon be placed on the list of endangered species. Plant varieties include sage and juniper. 

Humans have lived in the Caja del Rio area for millennia, as shown through evidence from the rock carvings. One of the first groups of people who have inhabited the region is the Pueblo Nation, who still lives there today and considers the region sacred. The U.S. government started to run Caja del Rio in the middle of the 20th century. Caja del Rio is currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the forest’s park ranger association. 

Photo credit: Patrick Alexander via FlickrPhoto by Patrick Alexander via Flickr

Although the region has great cultural and historical importance, Caja del Rio remains largely unprotected, which has opened the door to its degradation. Some destructive activities include defacement of the petroglyphs and cultural areas and recreational shooters’ failure to clean up their ammunition. The area has been threatened by development, especially the building of a highway. Santa Fe Councilwoman Renee Villarreal argues that the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management do not have enough resources to keep Caja del Rio clean and save it from development.

New Mexican citizens, politicians and activists support improving protections for Caja del Rio. According to a July 2022 survey done by the Center for Western Priorities, 8 in 10 New Mexican voters, including 93% of Democrats and 64% of Republicans, are in favor of its preservation. The Santa Fe local government and the All Pueblo Council of Governors have passed resolutions, most recently in June 2022, to demand that the federal government take care of Caja del Rio. Councilwoman Villarreal says: “The Caja del Rio has the most potent combination of cultural history and critical wildlife habitat in the entire country.” Environmental activist and Presbyterian minister Reverend Andrew Black says: “It’s a sacred place that reminds us of our common humanity and the important role we have as responsible stewards of this incredible landscape.”

Photo credit: Patrick Alexander via FlickrPhoto by Patrick Alexander via Flickr

If Caja del Rio is protected, more people and more money will be dedicated to its maintenance. This volcanic plateau will stay clean for both present and future generations who come to observe the wildlife. The historic sites that the Pueblo people value will not be ruined again. The flycatchers will live forever in this landscape. More importantly, we can reconnect with the peaceful nature of the environment. 


Ellen Montgomery

Director, Public Lands Campaign, Environment America

Ellen runs campaigns to protect America's beautiful places, from local beachfronts to remote mountain peaks. Prior to her current role, Ellen worked as the organizing director for Environment America’s Climate Defenders campaign. Ellen lives in Denver, where she likes to hike in Colorado's mountains.

Asha Dhakad

Environment America intern

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