International Symposium convenes experts to explore binational and transboundary conservation in the US-Mexico borderlands

Beth Conover, executive director of CSU's Salazar Center for North American Conservation, welcomes attendees to the 2022 Symposium on Conservation Impact in Denver.

More than 150 top conservation researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and philanthropic partners gathered in Denver and online earlier this month for the fourth annual International Symposium on Conservation Impact, hosted by the Salazar Center for North American Conservation.

Featured speakers included Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau; Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo; National Geographic photographer Pete McBride; Governor of the Tohono O’odham Nation Verlon Jose; newly appointed U.S. Commissioner for the Colorado River Anne Castle; Calixto Mateos-Hanel of the North American Development Bank; and UC Berkeley artist Ron Rael.

The event focused on the need for transboundary and binational collaboration to improve the health of people, wildlife, and the environment. Using the US-Mexico borderlands as a case study, speakers at the event shared their experience with conservation policies and partnerships at different scales throughout the region. Topics covered over the two-day event included social connections to the land, cooperation over transboundary water sources, planning to improve climate resilience, landscape connectivity in the context of the border wall, and innovative financing for conservation work in complex geopolitical landscapes. Master of Ceremonies for the event was Luis Benitez, Vice President of Government Affairs and Global Impact at the VF Corporation and Salazar Center advisory board member.

Valerie Gordon, Secretary/Treasurer of the Board, Cuenca Los Ojos
Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau, U.S. Department of the Interior
Verlon Jose, Governor of the Traditional O’odham Leaders, Tohono O’odham Nation
Pete McBride, award winning photographer and author
Lorraine Eiler, San Lucy District Alternate of the Tohono O’odham Legislative Council, Hia-Ced O’odham Nation

Valerie Gordon, of Cuenca los Ojos, a 121,000-acre (49,000-ha) protected area in the Sky Islands of Sonora, Mexico, opened the event by introducing attendees to the social, ecological, and political complexity of the borderlands.

Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau of the U.S. Department of the Interior discussed the importance of community-based and grassroots efforts to ensuring durable conservation outcomes in the borderlands, while Assistant Secretary Tanya Trujillo shared how Interior is using science-based decision making to address drought and increase resilience in transboundary river basins in the border region.

Pete McBride, award winning photographer and author focused on the disappearing Colorado river and the reemergence of areas like Glen Canyon. Other panels focused on connectivity across transboundary landscapes for humans and wildlife, the benefits of conserving water across borders, and the social and ecological impacts of the border wall construction to sensitive landscapes.

Representatives of the Tohono O’odham Nation, found in southern Arizona and Northern Mexico. shared how the construction of the border wall has impacted cultural and traditional practices along the border, and the social and cultural connections of their nation to the landscape over time.

During the symposium, the Salazar Center also announced its inaugural Peregrine Accelerator for Conservation Impact, which in 2022-23 will fund and build capacity for innovative conservation solutions in the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo river basin.

The Rio Grande River near Tao, New Mexico.
The Rio Grande River near Taos, New Mexico.
Map of the Rio Grande River Basin
Map of the Rio Grande and its tributaries within the Rio Grande drainage basin.

“The [Rio Grande River] basin is a rich ecological, economic, and cultural landscape, but it also faces threats from climate change, drought, and population growth.”

– Beth Conover, Salazar Center director

The symposium concluded with a panel of philanthropic experts discussing the role of philanthropy in the future of climate resilience and transboundary conservation. Renee Gonzales of Fondo Mexicano, Ted Kowalski of the Walton Family Foundation, and Emily Warren Armitano of the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation shared their experienced funding innovative projects in the border region, and the benefits and challenges of working in the philanthropic realm. Speakers looked to the future and spoke of opportunities for the philanthropic community to leverage private money with public investment dollars.