Our public lands and waterways do not just make up the physical landscape of our country, they are critical to our way of life, our culture, and they are the backdrop to our shared history – some of which we are still uncovering. They are a vital extension of our existing historic and cultural preservation systems – a part of our collective American heritage that’s one of the most important legacies to be handed down to our children and grandchildren. It’s not just land and it’s not just water, our public lands are the essence of our democracy – where all Americans have equal ownership regardless of cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds or political persuasions. Preserving these spaces is a fundamental American value.
This month we’re celebrating the 112th anniversary of the Antiquities Act, a law enacted and first used by President Theodore Roosevelt. Sixteen presidents (8 Republicans and 8 Democrats) have taken action to preserve our American heritage by designating places of cultural and historical significance as national monuments—places such as the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, César E. Chávez National Monument, Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument and the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.
As we recognize this legacy of preserving these places that has lasted well over a century, we joined up with the new group Artemis Sportswomen for a conversation with two New Mexicans active in conservation. Max Trujillo from HECHO and Christine Gonzales from Artemis were kind enough to hop on the phone and share their experiences with public lands and conservation and reflect on the importance of why we protect the places we love.
Check out Max’s story below and then head over to Artemis to read about how Christine connects to many of the very same spaces. We hope you enjoy, and here’s to protecting many more places that preserve our deep ties to the water and lands around us.
~ Camilla, Executive Director, HECHO
What does stewardship of public lands like national monuments, national parks mean to you?
Max: The process of getting a designation of a national monument or any other conservation designation for public lands means so much more than protecting the land from development. To me, it means preserving, especially here in the Southwest, preserving history and preserving culture. It's so important that the country as a whole has an opportunity to acknowledge and learn about the different cultures here in the Southwest, and these are no less important than then the history on the eastern part of the United States. It's interesting and really valuable. Included in stewardship is the preservation and protection of that history for posterity and for future reference of how the Southwest came to be.
Christine: I just wanted to say that I agree with everything that Max said and I think it's for kids and even adults to have a place that isn't developed in any way and there's so much stuff that's still isn't discovered. Everyday some new discovery, a new fossil or maybe pottery or a dwelling of our ancestors, it’s important stuff. I think it's really important to keep that intact. It's just hard to see everything being developed and commercialized.
What brought you to care about the stewardship of our lands and our waters?
Family. Sustenance. Tradition.
Max: My history of stewardship goes back 45 years— I learned it at a very young age. I'm one of 11 children and hunting and fishing were a big part of my family's sustenance we ate a lot of fish and wild game. At a very young age, my dad stated very clearly that I had ownership of our public lands and by virtue of being an American citizen I was an owner of all of these vast expanses of public lands. And I, you know, I've taken that to heart. I've lived it. I am fortunate enough to have brought my family up in the outdoors and keep some of these traditions of hunting and fishing alive within the family and partake in the beauty of the outdoors. But I've also taken it to another level by actively being part of coalitions that have protected large swaths of public land. It's been something that was inherent in my family and I'm just fortunate enough to continue that tradition.
When you hear the word ‘heritage’ what does that mean to you in the context of public lands?
Max: I'm an owner of public land and my family wasn't brought up with our own big ranch so public lands are my inheritance. This is something that's handed down from generation to generation and it's something that I want to protect so that I can hand it down to my children and grandchildren.
Why are public lands important to you and also what is your hope for the future of our public lands?
Max: As people evolve and things are becoming technological, it's going to be so important that people have that place for respite and for solitude and silence and being in nature. I think that's like the biggest threat to public lands is in this technological age people seem like they're needing [the natural world] less and less. If you want to see a waterfall you just Google waterfalls and you can see all the waterfalls you want. and maybe it's not important for people to get out and actually, see the waterfall and feel the water. Our world is just transitioning into something where people aren't getting out much anymore. I think that's a big threat because it's going to make it an easy target for extraction industry and development. My hope for the future is that people have this resurgence in wanting to be outdoors and getting out and having those experiences. It used to be hard for me to believe that people didn't need to get out. The new generation even young children -- five, six, seven years old with, with electronic devices in their hands and they depend on those things, spend all their time with these devices and no time outdoors. It's kind of scaring the crap out of me that we will no longer need those outdoor spaces. I can see that people aren't going to need the outdoors anymore. It's a weird sentiment that I'm feeling because I see our young ones glued to their electronic devices and to television and I view it as a big threat.
To read more, including more from Christine, please visit Artemis Sportswomen.