Haaland signs order protecting sacred lands near Placitas

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland signed an order on Thursday to withdraw more than 4,200 acres of land in Sandoval County near Placitas from mineral development. Haaland spoke in Bernalillo prior to signing the order, which places a 50-year moratorium on mineral leasing for the land that she had previously attempted to protect through legislation while […]

Haaland signs order protecting sacred lands near Placitas

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland signed an order on Thursday to withdraw more than 4,200 acres of land in Sandoval County near Placitas from mineral development.

Haaland spoke in Bernalillo prior to signing the order, which places a 50-year moratorium on mineral leasing for the land that she had previously attempted to protect through legislation while serving as a congresswoman.

She said the order impacts four separate tracts and areas that “contain known archaeological resources that range from as early as the prehistoric Paleoindian period.” 

The land includes an area known as Buffalo Tract as well as the Crest of Montezuma.

This area has been threatened with potential gravel mining operations.

“There are some places that are too special for development,” Haaland said. 

She explained that the area withdrawn from mineral leasing includes sacred sites and important wildlife corridors.

Prior to signing the order, Haaland and staff from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management visited the lands that will be protected.

“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 event on Thursday was emotional for Haaland who, at one point, wiped tears from her eyes.

She said Indigenous groups have called the Placitas area home since time immemorial. 

“It is undeniable how important these sacred lands are to Native people, culturally and spiritually,” Haaland said. “These lands are also extremely important to our non-human relatives.”

She said bears, deer, cougars and elk call the area home.

“These lands allow them to move freely between the Sandia Mountains and the mountain villages in northern New Mexico,” Haaland said.

The site is near Albuquerque and provides opportunities for outdoor recreation including hiking, camping, sightseeing and hunting. It is also considered ancestral and sacred lands for the Pueblos of San Felipe and Santa Ana.

Pueblo of Santa Ana Gov. Myron Armijo spoke during the signing event in Bernalillo. He said the lands are “near and dear to my heart.”

“No one makes any more land and so let’s try to preserve everything that we can take care of the land,” Armijo said.

The site is also important to the San Antonio de Las Huertas land grant.

Augustine Lucero, the former president of the land grant, quoted the Bible during the signing event saying “above all things, guard your heart.”

“Our hearts are embedded in these lands,” he said. “We have a love that we can’t share with words for our land.”

But the order is only temporary and efforts are underway in Congress to permanently protect the site. 

“This finalized proposal by the administration will provide key protections for the Buffalo Tract for 50 years,” U.S. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico, said in a press release. “Next, it’s time for Congress to pass my Buffalo Tract Protection Act to make these protections permanent.” 

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