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Commentary Environment

Opinion: On International Mountain Day, celebrate conservation efforts on both sides of the border

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By Janaé Reneaud Field and Raymundo Aguilar

Though El Paso and Ciudad Juárez are two separate cities in different countries, divided by a wall and often shrouded in geopolitical tension, their shared valley and natural resources inextricably connect both cities. This beautiful valley, split by the Rio Grande, is fortified by its mountains, making it possible for people, animals and plants to live here because of the life-giving water they collect beneath the earth.

This Saturday, Dec. 11, is International Mountain Day, and offers time to reflect on the necessity of the Borderland’s mountains and the groups working to preserve them.

On both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, our organizations and communities are fighting for the protection of the valley’s mountains, as their health is directly intertwined with the health of our communities, ecosystems and land. 

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Here in El Paso, The Frontera Land Alliance and our broad coalition of other non-profits, elected officials, small businesses, veterans, and others are closer than ever to earning national monument designation for Castner Range after nearly 50 years of work. In fact, all the movement needs is a signature from President Joe Biden to convert this already federally owned land into a protected space. 

Castner Range sits in the heart of El Paso and is known for its magnificent bright yellow and orange color when the Mexican poppies are in bloom. It also is home to a plethora of unique species of animals and plants and ancient archaeological resources. 

The permanent protection of Castner Range by President Biden will illustrate a significant step to expand conservation education to marginalized communities who disproportionately bear the brunt of climate impacts and traditionally have less access to nature and forever protect the land’s cultural, historical, scientific and environmental attributes. This is the goal of the Castner Range Coalition.

Castner Range, in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Scott Cutler)

In El Paso’s sister city, Ciudad Juárez, there is a similar, younger movement to protect its mountains. La Sierra de Ciudad Juárez is a group of mountains that extend on the western horizon of Ciudad Juárez in the Rio Grande Valley – the same valley as the Franklin Mountains of El Paso and the Organ Mountains of Las Cruces. 

The effort to protect them, led by Defensa de la Sierra de Ciudad Juárez, has a higher mountain to climb, but also aims to earn a federal designation that will recognize the range as a natural area or National Park. Currently, Defensa de la Sierra de Ciudad Juárez is combating individual and corporate waste, the illegal removal of native animals and plants for sale, driving destructive vehicles on the land and mining for resources, which further damages the natural balance of the ecosystems of Sierra de Ciudad Juárez. 

The group was founded in 2020 by a group of young hikers committed to the protection, restoration and conservation of this vital land for the community. Defensa de la Sierra de Ciudad Juárez is committed to the health of the mountains and currently cleans up trash, reforests the land, responds to citizen complaints and promotes awareness for the cause.

Both Castner Range and Sierra de Ciudad Juárez are natural havens in the heart of these booming metropolitan areas that you can see from the opposite border. The mountains personify and reaffirm the balance between the two contemporary constructed cities with the beautiful high desert landscape.

For the Defensa de La Sierra de Ciudad Juárez and the Castner Range Coalition, support from both sides of the border is vital. The precious land of the Paso del Norte region and the resources it offers support millions of people who reside under the shadow of its mountains. 

Cueva de Castrellón, located in the Sierra de Ciudad Juárez range. (Photo courtesy of Raymundo Aguilar)

Conservation is not just about protecting our mountains, but is largely about protecting ourselves and future generations who will call the Borderland their home. 

This International Mountain Day, take a hike! Get reacquainted with the land and become inspired to protect it. After all, it’s home.

For more information on the efforts of Castner Range, click here.

For more information on La Defensa de La Sierra de Ciudad Juárez, click here.

Janaé Reneaud Field is the executive director of The Frontera Land Alliance and serves as the leader of the Castner Range Coalition. Raymundo Aguilar is the leader of Defensa de la Sierra de Ciudad Juárez.

Cover photo: Mexican poppies bloom each spring on the northeast side of the Franklin Mountains. (Photo courtesy of Mark McClune)

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