The Species in Peril project at the University of New Mexico (UNM) was founded in April 2020 to foster conversations, creative production, public scholarship, and grassroots initiatives to bring attention to the escalating crisis of biological annihilation that includes human-caused species extinctions, die-offs and massacres.

What is Species in Peril?

At the turn of this century, a short text with the title “RESOURCES: Species in Peril” was published in the journal Science, which alerted that more than 1,200 animals and plants in the United States are “in enough trouble to make the federal government’s endangered species list.”

Two decades later, more than 400 additional species have been added to that list—granting the United States the #3 spot on the list of species in peril by nations, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The global picture isn’t encouraging either. Last year, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which operates under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Programme, issued a grim warning that one million animal and plant species are facing extinction, many within decades, due to human activities.

Then came along Species in Peril Along the Rio Grande…

With the UN biodiversity assessment as the impetus, community members across the Rio Grande / Río Bravo watershed in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands came together and organized Species in Peril Along the Rio Grande as a creative response to the crisis.

The Species in Peril Along the Rio Grande project was developed by 516 ARTS and the Art & Ecology program at UNM, in partnership with a large number of arts, academic, cultural and conservation organizations and institutions in the Rio Grande / Río Bravo watershed.

The expansive transnational project, which began on September 28, 2019, and ended on December 28, 2019—included a main exhibition at 516 ARTS in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which was cocurated by Subhankar Banerjee (Professor of Art & Ecology at UNM) and Dr. Josie Lopez (Curator of Art, Albuquerque Museum)—along with nearly a dozen associated exhibitions, murals and public art projects that were organized by institutions across the region. The project also included extensive public programming in northern Chihuahua (Mexico), west Texas, New Mexico and southern Colorado, which were coconvened by Suzanne Sbarge (Executive Director of 516 ARTS) and Subhankar Banerjee.

Over the past three years, the Art & Ecology program at UNM convened two environmental justice symposiums—Decolonizing Nature: Resistance, Resilience, Revitalization in April 2017 and the last oil: a multispecies justice symposium on Arctic Alaska and beyond in February 2018—and several speaker series lectures, including the Global Futures Initiative series in spring 2019. The Species in Peril Along the Rio Grande project was a continuation of those community-engaged scholarly efforts.

The Species in Peril project was founded at UNM in 2020

With the 2019 UN biodiversity assessment—that one million animal and plant species are facing extinction—as the impetus—a number of high-profile global summits on biodiversity were planned for 2020 in what the UN designated the “super year” for biodiversity. The global initiative to address the escalating biodiversity crisis started successfully with the migratory species convention CMS COP13 in Gandhinagar, India. But all the other summits that were planned, including the IUCN World Conservation Congress in France and the UN Biodiversity Conference in China, had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Those gatherings will likely happen next year.

After Species in Peril Along the Rio Grande came to a close end of 2019, professor Subhankar Banerjee and his colleagues in New Mexico and around the world made a commitment to continue the conversation on biological annihilation and established, in April 2020, the Species in Peril project at the University of New Mexico. The project launched with the Species in Peril e-letter on April 27, 2020. The inaugural e-letter included two articles and two drawings.

The e-letter will serve as the primary public communication of the Species in Peril project. With it, we will share articles and art as well as news about our future programming.

The United Nations organizes the World Environment Day on June 5 each year and selected ‘Celebrate Biodiversity’ as this year’s theme. On that day, the second issue of the Species in Peril e-letter was published, including three articles and three drawings, and a press release for the UNM Biodiversity Webinar Series—Fall 2020, which will be presented by the Species in Peril project with U.S. Senator Tom Udall as honorary co-host.

While scientists from around the world are continuing important work on understanding biological annihilation through the lens of science—the Species in Peril project at UNM will focus on cultural responses to the crisis to complement the scientific efforts and to assist and guide public policy initiatives. The cultural responses will include creative production with art and stories; public scholarship informed by recent developments in multispecies justice, environmental humanities, political ecology, and Indigenous and other ethnic studies; and grassroots mobilization to engage the public.

Expansive in its geopolitical scope, our efforts will be culturally-inclusive, place-based and community-engaged with the explicit aim of helping nonhuman relatives with whom we share this Earth survive and thrive, rather than steadily marching toward extinction en masse.

Banner Image: Arctic Refuge—Defend the Sacred Alaska rally, Fairbanks, Alaska. Photo by Pamela A. Miller, March 7, 2018.
Zeke PeñaAll Against the Wall, 2018, Digital illustration, created for Southwest Environmental Center to call attention to the harm that the border wall causes wildlife and our communities.
laura c carlson, the beautifuls, 2020, Mixed media on paper. 

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