Hopes surged when in Biden’s first few weeks in office, he signed an ambitious executive order, announcing a national goal of protecting a third of the country’s lands and oceans by 2030. He also launched the Justice 40 initiative, which aims to help marginalized communities through investment in climate-resilient infrastructure. The orders aimed to not only reduce climate impacts but strengthen cultural connections to wild places. This March, the Biden administration officially designated the Castner Range, along with Avi Kwa Ame in Nevada, as monuments.

The timing couldn’t be more urgent. Throughout the Southwest, landscapes are urbanizing, and finding places to get outside has become more difficult. “There is a huge lack of access to natural places, especially if you live in a bigger city,” said Skylar Begay, the director of tribal collaboration and outreach at Archaeology Southwest, a non-profit preservation group based in Tucson, Arizona.

Begay also highlights the ways class and climate injustice intersect, explaining how people from low-income communities bear the brunt of climate change.

For communities who have lived and cultivated on these lands for centuries, the lack of accessibility prevents them from preserving their cultural traditions and architecture. This is the case for the Great Bend of the Gila, a sprawling stretch of the Sonoran desert that extends through rural Arizona, creating uneven mountains between the cities of Yuma and Phoenix. The land holds thousands of historical petroglyphs, some of which date back as early as 1699.

Begay hopes to increase tribal involvement in how this land is managed.

As local campaigns for monuments finally succeed, thinking about ways that cultural values can be included in land management is a top priority for these communities. In a region like El Paso, Texas, and its neighboring urban area, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, the Castner Range symbolizes the coveted “American dream,” Peña says.

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