Lawmakers are pushing to stop gravel mining on Pueblo’s sacred lands. Again.
With environmental awareness heightened by climate change, hopefully the second time around will be the charm of 4,200 acres of sacred land for the pueblos of New Mexico.
The Buffalo Tract Protection Act (SB 180) seeks to remove 4,200 acres of Bureau of Land Management land near Placitas, New Mexico from all forms of mining development, particularly gravel extraction. The Buffalo Tract and Montezuma Ridge, both included in the bill, are ancestral lands of the Pueblo de Santa Ana and the Pueblo de San Felipe.
SB 180, presented to the US House of Representatives by Representative Melanie Stansbury, is co-sponsored by Representative Teresa Leger Fernández and supported by two members of Congress from California. Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján co-sponsored the bill in the Senate.
The New Mexico congressional delegation continued to withdraw the Buffalo Tract from gravel mining in 2019. Deb Haaland, who is now secretary of the interior, sponsored the bill. Senators Heinrich and then-Senator Tom Udall also sponsored the bill in the same year.
In 2019, the National Association of Stone, Sand and Gravel opposed the measure, saying in a letter that a ban on gravel mining could lead to a 30-40% increase and more in material costs of public works projects such as roads and water projects in the Albuquerque metro. Region. Gravel resources in the Albuquerque area are depleted, necessitating sourcing of gravel from other areas. According to the nonprofit Las Placitas group, Placitas is home to four of the 13 largest gravel pits in the state.
While Stansbury acknowledged concerns about the rising costs of public works projects, she said the lands the bill sets aside are sacred lands. In addition to the ancestral links to the pueblos, Stansbury noted that the area provides an important corridor for wildlife. Land grants and other communities also have historical cultural ties to the region.
Stansbury believes the gravel may have come from other places that are not sensitive to the environment and culture. “How can you weigh the net profits of businesses and building materials against the cultural heritage of communities and in particular our tribes and pueblos? ” she said.
“The Montezuma Ridge and the Buffalo Tract are home to important ecosystems and have been used by communities along the Rio Grande Valley for centuries,” said Heinrich. “Many residents have shared with me their concerns about the future of this land and the potential damage that would result from gravel mining. Mining is said to have a negative impact on public health, quality of life and water supply.
Heavy industry such as gravel mining leads to an increase in particles in the air. A proposed gravel mine near residential communities could increase respiratory inflammation, Stansbury said in a press release.
“Protecting the Buffalo Tract will allow our young people and future generations to know our ancestral lands as we have done and ensure that the wildlife is not disturbed,” said Pueblo de San Felipe Governor Anthony Ortiz in a statement. The area also includes sites protected under the Native American Burials Protection and Repatriation Act.
“Currently, several mines are operated in this area, and any further mining would only exacerbate the negative impacts of mining on this area and further limit the movement of wildlife along this important corridor,” said Pueblo of the governor of Santa Ana, Ulysses G. Léon. “Santa Ana has ceased mining activities on its land and we support efforts to protect the Buffalo Tract from further mining. “
Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning journalist, formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent newspaper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.