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BLM withdraws more than 4,000 acres of sacred lands around Placitas from mineral leasing

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland signs Public Land Order 7940 protecting more than 4,000 acres in Sandoval County from mineral leasing
Alice Fordham
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland signs Public Land Order 7940 protecting more than 4,000 acres in Sandoval County from mineral leasing

A new Public Land Order withdraws from new mining and oil and gas development more than 4,200 acres of land considered sacred by Pueblos and used by wildlife.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland signed the order, which will last 50 years, in a ceremony in Bernalillo (it is not yet published but the text is here).

"There are some places that are too special for development," she said. "And yet there are mining operations that encroach further into communities and wildlife habitats."

The land, near Placitas in Sandoval County, is in four parcels. It is considered sacred to the Pueblos of San Felipe and Santa Ana, with an archaeological record stretching back millennia, according to the Bureau of Land Management's initial proposal for withdrawal of leasing.

Santa Ana Governor Myron Armijo attended the signing.

"Over the millennia, I guess you would say the Pueblo of Santa Ana has been in this area, we've been stewards of the land, always, always," he told KUNM.

Gravel mines already operate in land abutting the newly protected areas, and mining companies have previously been issued further exploration permits, according to the BLM.

The agency proposed withdrawing mineral rights from the area last September, saying that as well as being held sacred, the area was important for people in nearby Albuquerque to use for recreation and for wildlife like elk and bears to move from place to place.

"We've been trying to establish a wildlife corridor from the Sandias, the north face of the Sandias through I-25 across to the Jemez canyon or to the Jemez mountain range," Governor Armijo said.

A BLM report noted that 90% of comments they received were in favor. Secretary Haaland walked around the area before signing the order.

"As I stood atop the Crest of Montezuma, taking in the scenic views, we could see some of the communities that call this special place home," she said. "And I completely understand why people want to live there."

The San Antonio de las Huertas land grant is also in the area. Augustine Lucero, the former president of the land grant, attended the ceremony and said that he hoped it would mark the beginning of greater cooperation between the land grant and Pueblo communities.

"I hope that what happens today is just the beginning of things to come. Not just when it comes to the signing of these documents, but the bridging of the chasms between our people," he said.

Members of New Mexico's congressional delegation have worked since at least 2016 to pass legislation that would permanently withdraw land in that area, often known as the Buffalo Tract, from mineral development.

Senator Martin Heinrich said in a statement, "The Biden administration has listened to our calls and recognized that the Buffalo Tract is clearly the wrong place for a gravel mine."

Alice Fordham joined the news team in 2022 after a career as an international correspondent, reporting for NPR from the Middle East and later Latin America and Europe. She also worked as a podcast producer for The Economist among other outlets, and tries to meld a love of sound and storytelling with solid reporting on the community. She grew up in the U.K. and has a small jar of Marmite in her kitchen for emergencies.
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