UNM Biodiversity Webinar Series – Fall 2020

Presented by the Species in Peril project with U.S. Senator Tom Udall as honorary co-host


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Did you know that the root causes of the no-end-in-sight coronavirus pandemic are situated in the intensifying biodiversity crisis, specifically the rapid loss of wildlife habitats and the trade of wildlife? This connection has not yet received the attention it deserves in the media or in public policy.

Did you know that the biodiversity crisis is just as significant, just as expansive, and just as challenging to mitigate—as the climate crisis? Even though attendees at the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro voted to mitigate both crises, only one of those two, the climate crisis has finally received global public acknowledgement, while the biodiversity crisis continues to fester from public inattention.   

With those (and other related) questions and assessments in mind, the Species in Peril project at UNM in partnership with the Office of the U.S. Senator Tom Udall, Office of Congresswoman Deb Haaland, New Mexico BioPark Society, and the Southwest Environmental Center, will host the UNM Biodiversity Webinar Series—Fall 2020. Please see below a complete list of our Partners in Education for this webinar series. We thank you all!

This online symposium is FREE and open to the public, but registration is required. The series will include four webinars, offered monthly starting in September. Please visit the PROGRAM page for the schedule of events and the link to register for each webinar, and the SPEAKERS page for biographies of the panelists and moderators; and the WEBINAR VIDEOS page to watch the recorded webinars.

The webinar series, which will be available to a global audience, builds on the efforts of UNM professor Subhankar Banerjee, founding Director of the Species in Peril project at UNM, and Senator Tom Udall, a longtime voice for bold action to address climate change, to confront threats to biodiversity across the globe. 

The webinar will explore how academia can support policy-makers advance agendas identified by science and informed by community concerns and cultural knowledge and practices—as critical to the long-term health of the planet and the nation. 

Arctic Refuge rally in Washington, DC (photo by Subhankar Banerjee, June 15, 2018).


Shortly after assuming office in 2017, President Donald Trump announced his intention to make America “energy dominant” and, his former Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke suggested that that dominance will come from drilling for oil and gas in Alaska, including in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge is a biological nursery of global significance, and a place the Indigenous Gwich’in people call “the sacred place where life begins.” The Trump administration also proceeded to expand oil and gas development around Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, a place considered sacred by the Indigenous peoples of the Southwest. In response, the University of New Mexico hosted a national conference, the last oil: a multispecies justice symposium in February 2018, which was convened by professor Banerjee. UNM students attended the symposium and their responses were compiled in a 220-page book, the last oil: students respond, which was published on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, October 8, 2018. 

Later in October 2018, the WWF and the Zoological Society of London published the Living Planet Report. The report’s key message was alarming and tragic: between 1970 and 2014, monitored populations of vertebrates (birds, mammals, fishes, amphibians, and reptiles) had declined in abundance by an average of 60% globally, with particularly pronounced losses in the tropics and in freshwater systems. South and Central America suffered a dramatic loss of 89% on average, while freshwater populations of vertebrates declined by a staggering 83% worldwide on average.

Within months came another devastating scientific report. On May 7, 2019, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which operates under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), released the first comprehensive global biodiversity assessment with a grim warning: 1 million animals and plant species face extinction due to human activity.

“Act Now” workshop participants, from the last oil: students respond, pp. 28-29, 2018 (photo: nicholas b. jacobsen).

Our shared future 

But how did the United States’ White House respond to the UN biodiversity assessment? On August 12, 2019, the Trump administration announced its intention to gut the Endangered Species Act, the hallowed legal framework to protect imperiled species. And on July 31, 2020, the Trump administration issued another blow to the Endangered Species Act by proposing a new definition of “critical habitat.”

The community members in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands had offered a different kind of response to the UN biodiversity assessment. Alarmed by the imperiled status of our nonhuman relatives, 516 ARTS in Albuquerque and the UNM in partnership with cultural and academic institutions and communities across the Rio Grande watershed on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border organized a transnational creative response—Species in Peril Along the Rio Grande, which included nearly a dozen exhibitions and extensive public programming in New Mexico, northern Chihuahua, west Texas, and southern Colorado. The main exhibition at 516 ARTS, on view from 28 September through 28 December 2019, was cocurated by professor Banerjee and Josie Lopez, PhD, Curator of Art at the Albuquerque Museum. 

Installation photo from Species in Peril Along the Rio Grande exhibition, 516 ARTS, 2019 (courtesy 516 ARTS). 

At the same time, responding to a call from scientists, in October 2019, Senator Tom Udall co-sponsored the Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature, which calls on the federal government to establish a national goal of conserving at least 30 percent of the land and the oceans within the territory of the United States by 2030. The following month, in November, Senator Udall sponsored the Tribal Wildlife Corridors Act which would support wildlife management efforts by tribal governments. He has also introduced the Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act of 2018 to protect and restore fish, wildlife, and plant species, especially those that are at risk to habitat loss and fragmentation—a major factor in species decline and extinction. 

On February 7, 2020, Congresswoman Deb Haaland with support from her colleagues introduced a companion Thirty by Thirty Resolution to Save Nature in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The UNM Biodiversity Webinar Series—Fall 2020 is built on the foundations of these academic and federal policy initiatives to foster conversations on the escalating biodiversity crisis and inspire public participation to mitigate the tragedy.

We have worked hard to host the webinar series this year rather than wait until after the coronavirus pandemic is behind us. 

But why? 

The United Nations Environment Programme had designated Year 2020 as “a super year for nature and biodiversity.” The theme for this year’s UN World Environment Day was ‘Celebrate Biodiversity’. The coronavirus pandemic prevented the global community from organizing several major biodiversity summits that were already scheduled (except the 13th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals that took place in Gandhinagar, India, in late February). Nevertheless, the pandemic is helping to bring much needed public attention to the biodiversity crisis, since the pandemic’s root causes are situated in it.  

caribou is our life, table display by David Solomon, the last oil symposium, UNM, 2018 (photo: nicholas b. jacobsen).

The UNM Biodiversity Webinar Series—Fall 2020 is our modest contribution to the global efforts to protect the nonhuman relatives with whom we share this Earth. In addition to many speakers from the United States, the webinar series also includes speakers from Canada and Mexico to signal the necessity and significance of transnational cooperation. While scientists and conservation leaders will inform us of biodiversity assessments and strategic partnerships for mitigation, Indigenous educators, writers and conservationists will inform us about the significance of kinship for advancing multispecies justice.   

The webinar series will bring species conservation initiatives that are largely guided by scientific knowledge and economic considerations into conversation with grassroots efforts that are built on the foundations of place-based cultural knowledge and practices and informed by community concerns expressed through stories, art, and social movements. This building of a bridge will help us shape a more inclusive public policy for mitigating the crisis of biological annihilation, which includes species extinctions, mass die-offs and massacres. 

The UNM Biodiversity Webinar Series—Fall 2020 will also help lay the foundation for developing a much needed and long-awaited national biodiversity action plan for the United States.

Our Partners in Education

Banner Image: Ruben Olguin, Evaporation (detail) from the exhibition Species in Peril Along the Rio Grande, 516 ARTS, 2019, hand-foraged clay and soil on wall (courtesy of the artist).