Indigenous costumes and languages, images of strikingly beautiful wildlife, scientific data on climate patterns, chants and prayers, maps of the oil industry legacy, recordings of chirping birds, sounds of broken but powerful voices. These elements are solely a minuscule illustration of what the last oil encompassed, a far–reaching and comprehensive three–day event held at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. … In contrast to what most of us are accustomed to when it comes to panel discussions, the last oil brought together multiple speakers from entirely different realms and still managed to draw an inextricable connection throughout the entire narrative. It is not often that we see indigenous activists, singers, conservation biologists, environmental law experts, museum curators, science professors, and college undergraduates sharing the same space to collectively raise awareness and call for action on numerous interconnected issues.
—Laima A. Díaz Vepstas, from the last oil: students respond, 8 October 2018

Species in Peril Along the Rio Grande was conceived with an eye toward making the biological crisis—which so far has eluded much public engagement—into a common crisis. By that I mean a crisis that we all can see and experience and participate in to mitigate. … This may be the first time that communities across a large region spanning two nations have engaged the biological crisis in such an expansive and distributed manner with a shared concern and generosity.
—Subhankar Banerjee, from exhibition catalogue essay in Species in Peril Along the Rio Grande, 2019

National Biodiversity Demand Banner, Alexandria Zuniga de Dóchas, digital illustration, 2021
(courtesy of the artist / Center for Environmental Arts and Humanities and the Species in Peril project at UNM).

In late summer 2021, the Defenders of Wildlife, a national wildlife conservation organization in the United States launched a bi–lingual (English/Spanish) letter campaign to encourage students across the nation to participate in the intensifying biodiversity crisis that continues to fester from public inattention. The letter leads with an illustration “National Biodiversity Demand Banner Graphic” by Alexandria Zuniga de Dóchas, a Latinx MFA student in Art & Ecology at UNM. We salute the efforts of our colleagues at Defenders of Wildlife, including Diane Dotson who is coordinating the national student biodiversity campaign. I also share a brief background of our humble engagement in this national campaign.

During Fall 2020, (then) U.S. Senator Tom Udall and I co–hosted the UNM Biodiversity Webinar Series, which included four webinars that launched on 14 September and concluded on 3 December 2020. The Species in Peril project at UNM had organized the webinar series in partnership with the Office of the U.S. Senator Tom Udall, Office of then Congresswoman (and now Madame Secretary of the Interior) Deb Haaland, New Mexico BioPark Society, Southwest Environmental Center, and the Indigenous Design + Planning Institute at UNM. Concurrently, I was teaching a class on biodiversity crisis and conservation. Alexandria Zuniga de Dóchas was a student in the class who created a digital illustration as part of the final team–project. That illustration with line drawings was the first version of the more fully realized illustration that you see above. During summer 2021, Alexandria finalized the drawing which now graces the national biodiversity campaign. Congratulations, Alexandria!


The Species in Peril project at the University of New Mexico (UNM) is a public service initiative. The project was founded in April 2020 to foster conversations, creative production, public scholarship, and grassroots initiatives to bring attention to the intensifying crisis of biological annihilation, which includes human–caused species extinctions, mass die–offs and massacres.

We launched the project with the Species in Peril e–letter on April 27, 2020, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic just as cities, states and nations were instituting lockdowns to contain the spread of COVID-19. The root causes of the pandemic, scientists inform us, are situated in the biodiversity crisis, specifically the rapid loss of wildlife habitats and trade of wildlife.

Subhankar serves as the founding director of the Species in Peril project.

During Fall 2020, the Species in Peril project in partnership with a number of academic and cultural institutions hosted the UNM Biodiversity Webinar Series. The series was co–convened by Subhankar Banerjee and U.S. Senator Tom Udall. It included four webinars, one each month that launched on 14 September and concluded on 3 December 2020.

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

Species in Peril Along the Rio Grande
Exhibition curated by Subhankar Banerjee and Josie Lopez, PhD
Public programming convened by Suzanne Sbarge and Subhankar Banerjee
28 September — 28 December 2019, 516 ARTS, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Developed by 516 ARTS in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the Art & Ecology program at the University of New Mexico, in partnership with a number of arts, academic, and cultural institutions, and conservation organizations in the Rio Grande / Río Bravo watershed.

Alarmed by the escalating loss of nonhuman lives—community members across the Rio Grande / Río Bravo basin, in the borderlands of the United States and Mexico, came together and presented a transnational creative response to the tragedy informed by science and Indigenous ecological knowledge. Species in Peril Along the Rio Grande, a contemporary art exhibition at 516 ARTS, and the associated public programming, which included Indigenous knowledge walks, poetry reading, and talks and interdisciplinary panels, as well as other associated exhibitions, murals, and public art projects—took place in New Mexico, northern Chihuahua in Mexico, west Texas and southern Colorado. The project’s aim was to raise awareness, spark conversations, and inspire collective actions for multispecies justice.

The 84–page exhibition catalog and the 32–page program guide are available online in its entirety for viewing and download at no cost. We encourage you to consider using these publications and the resources that you will find on the project’s website (see below) — in teaching, scholarship, and community organizing to address the biological crisis happening in your own region.

The Arctic Refuge Protectors: An Open Letter from Teachers and Scholars was co-authored by Rosemary Ahtuangaruak (Iñupiaq), Subhankar Banerjee, Finis Dunaway, and Norma Kassi (Vuntut Gwitchin). It was signed by more than 400 teachers and scholars in the United States, Canada and other countries. On March 13, 2019, the letter with names of all the signers was submitted to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as a public comment on the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

the last oil: a multispecies justice symposium on Arctic Alaska and beyond
Symposium convened by Subhankar Banerjee
21–23 February 2018, The University of New Mexico

the last oil symposium at the University of New Mexico is the first national convening to address the misguided and reckless Arctic and offshore energy policy of the Trump administration, which endangers biological nurseries of global significance, violates indigenous human rights, and threatens to derail the efforts to mitigate climate change and the Sixth Extinction. Twenty–nine leading activists, artists, attorneys, biologists, climate scientists, conservationists, curators, historians, policy experts, and writers united in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the public forum.

Decolonizing Nature: resistance | resilience | revitalization
Public forum convened by Subhankar Banerjee
19–22 April 2017, The University of New Mexico

Decolonizing Nature: resistance | resilience | revitalization environmental justice public forum included a four–day conference at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico; a two–week companion contemporary art companion exhibition at 516 ARTS; a one–day film screening at the UNM Art Museum; and on Earth Day, April 22, the participants had the opportunity to attend “Abrazos: A Community Celebration of Environmental Justice” at the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge.

On August 26, 2010, Subhankar founded and served as its editor. The online site presented original stories on Arctic, desert, forests, and oceans by writers, scientists, scholars and activists from the Arctic to Australia. The contributors included Iñupiaq conservationist Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, marine scientist Terry Gosliner, food justice activist Vandana Shiva, energy transition activist Mariel Nanasi, and many others. These stories were often reposted in other progressive online publications, including in AlterNet, Counter Currents, Common Dreams, Guernica, Huffington Post, TruthOut, YubaNet and others. The site posted its last article in March 2015.


Between 2001 and 2005, aerial surveys were conducted over 6.4 million acres of land in New Mexico, which revealed that Ips confusus, a tiny bark beetle killed an estimated 54.5 million piñon—New Mexico’s state tree. In many areas of northern New Mexico, about 90 percent of mature piñons perished. Prolonged drought combined with rapid warming led to the mass die–off of piñon.

From 2006 through 2010, Subhankar walked almost every day around his home and made photographs to make sense of the peril of piñon and to understand the entangled and inter–dependent ecology of the desert—from avian creatures to underground dwellers with plants on the ground connecting the two ecological spaces. A selection of photographs he made were shown in the exhibition Where I Live I Hope to Know at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas (28 March — 28 August 2011), and more recently in the exhibition Long Environmentalism at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, New Mexico (13 December 2019 — 17 June 2020).

Although Subhankar had no answer at the time, he did wonder about the larger ecological loss that would arise from the tree die–offs across western North America. In August 2010, he wrote this: Hundreds of millions of trees have recently died and many more hundreds of millions will soon be dying. Now think of all the other lives, including birds and animals, that depended on those trees. The number of these must be in the tens of billions. What happened to them and how do we talk about that which we can’t see and will never know?

Despite a few isolated exhibitions and articles, the peril of piñon, one of the most expansive and consequential species die–offs of this century in the United States, never received wide public acknowledgement, not even in New Mexico, unlike the imperiled polar bear that has become the poster child of global climate change communication. Over the past fourteen years, Subhankar have been trying to encourage fellow artists, students and scholars in his home state to engage with peril of piñon.

In Fall 2018, Subhankar taught a class on biodiversity crisis and conservation. Leia Barnett was a student in the class, at the time a senior in anthropology. For final project, Leia created a Story Map, “The Loss of A Namesake: Bird Population Decline on the Pajarito Plateau.” She interviewed ornithologist Dr. Jeanne Fair, who with colleagues at the Los Alamos National Laboratory had conducted a study of bird die–offs, following the piñon die–off. The study conducted over a decade and published in the journal Biological Conservation in 2018 revealed very troubling findings: between 2003 and 2013, population of birds in the Pajarito Plateau in New Mexico declined by a staggering 73% while the diversity of birds dropped by 45%.

For Leia, the class project was not the end but the start of a deeper engagement to come. She graduated the following spring and continued her exploration of piñon. By December 2020, She completed two more Story Maps, creating what she calls a trilogy.

In 2020, the piñon in northern New Mexico, the ones that had survived the die–off and the new ones that have since sprouted—bloomed, which happens once every four to seven years. Leia’s beautiful photograph “New piñon cone” in the third story map offers promise in the midst of our troubled time. I take a moment to honor her commitment and thank her for the gift that resulted from sincere engagement.

LEIA BARNETT STORY MAP #1   †     |     STORY MAP #2   †     |     STORY MAP #3   †

ARCTIC   REFUGE   OUTREACH   —   2003–2005

Subhankar’s first book Seasons of Life and Land: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was published in April 2003 by the Mountaineers Books in Seattle. The accompanying exhibition Seasons of Life and Land at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, however, was censored.

The censorship resulted in major criticism from the press. “Smithsonian Is No Safe Haven for Exhibit on Arctic Wildlife Refuge,” Timothy Egan charged in The New York Times; in an editorial, “Some Scary Pictures,” the Los Angeles Times opined, “It’s sweet justice when attempts at censorship backfire and call attention to the very thing the censor hoped to hide”; and Ingrid Sischy wrote an extensive story, “The Smithsonian’s Big Chill,” in Vanity Fair.

Following the press coverage of the controversy, both the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco created two separate versions of the Seasons of Life and Land exhibition. With generous support from the Lannan Foundation, the California Academy of Sciences traveled seven copies of the exhibition to sixteen museums around the United States. The Lannan Foundation also gave additional support to the Mountaineers Books to organize a public outreach program.

Subhankar worked closely with staff members at the Mountaineers Books and the California Academy of Sciences to give more than twenty–five lectures across the United States. In most of those events, he was accompanied by Indigenous Gwich’in and/or Iñupiaq conservationists from Arctic North America. Some of the museums additionally created their own extensive public programming and partnerships with the Seasons of Life and Land exhibition. One such example is the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington in Seattle. The Burke Museum and the Mountaineers Books partnered with the King County Library System to share educational resources, and with the Seattle Times that commissioned the creation of a teachable education guide which the newspaper sent to schools across the Washington state under a program called Newspaper in Education.