Commentary: As young people, it’s clear to us that we are quickly coming to a point of no return with the climate crisis, and we need bold solutions. While the pathways to solving the climate crisis are as varied as the causes, we do know that protecting public lands can and should play a vital role. It’s for this reason that we as Las Cruces youth working on climate change stand behind and support efforts to protect 30% of land and water within the US by 2030 - otherwise known as “30 x 30.” While at first glance this seems like an overly ambitious goal, there is a pathway forward.
We, along with Friends of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, recently hosted a panel with the original co-sponsors of the 30x30 legislation: Sen. Tom Udall and Rep. Deb Haaland. It was insightful and inspirational to talk with our Congressional champions about their leadership to develop New Mexico’s and America’s road map for 30 x 30.
Why is protecting land and water so important in our fight against climate change? The U.S. loses an estimated football field-sized patch of nature to development for oil and gas every 30 seconds. Close to one million species are nearly extinct due in major part to the loss of important ecosystems that sustain life. Protecting public land, water and natural areas is one of the most efficient ways to safeguard species from the impacts of climate change.
So, the question remains: where are the lands and waterways that we can protect? The majority (60%) of the US is in a "natural state," land which has not yet been impacted by human activity. Yet only 12% of land nationwide is protected. When considering which public lands to protect, we can start with the places overseen by our largest land management agency, the Bureau of Land Management.
Here in southern New Mexico our local BLM office manages more than five million acres of public land. This includes areas of high environmental value, such as Otero Mesa, which is about a million acres of the largest remaining and intact Chihuahuan desert grassland and is home to a variety of wildlife and plant life. Another area with high environmental value is the bootheel area of southern New Mexico, which encompasses a number of critical habitat areas. It’s also currently threatened by a border wall that will cause irrevocable harm to the area.
As we were virtually speaking with two members of Congress who are champions for public lands in the great state of New Mexico, we were inspired by a few common themes in our conversation. The first is the shared legacy New Mexicans have with our public lands. We recognize the value they bring into our lives, particularly in these difficult times. Our protected public lands have provided to our community much needed solace and peace. They have provided us a space to be in community, when being in community is so hard to do.
The second was the recognition of the role young climate activists play in fighting for a cleaner future. While we can’t all quite vote yet, we can call our legislators, we can talk with land management agencies, and remind our community about how important it is for us to find solutions to the climate crisis. Our “land of enchantment” gains that name in part because of our treasured public lands. Together, we are committed to fighting for our enchanting landscapes, communities, and futures.
Protected public lands are the key to our future. To address the climate crisis we need to protect more public lands from development. Let's thank Sen. Udall and Rep. Haaland for their leadership, and let's continue advocating for these special places. Alongside our state leaders and the incoming Biden Administration, it’s time to begin the important work to address our climate crisis.
Allyssa Wright and Kyla Navarro are students at New Mexico State University. Adelaide Olberding, Anthony Tomaziefski and Gaby Salmerón are students with Las Cruces Public Schools