The Biden administration has proposed prohibiting oil drilling and mining on thousands of acres of land in northern New Mexico, aimed at safeguarding Native American heritage and cultural sites.
The Department of the Interior (DOI) unveiled the plan to ban new mining claims and oil and gas development across more than 4,200 acres in Sandoval County, situated north of Albuquerque. If the proposal is finalized and implemented, it would remain in effect for up to 50 years.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland expressed the administration’s commitment to protecting these lands in response to calls from tribes, elected officials, and local communities. Secretary Haaland stated, “Today we’re responding to a call from Tribes, elected leaders, and community members who want to see these public lands protected.” She added, “We look forward to hearing more from the public to inform decisions about how activities, like gravel mining, may impact these lands, including the important cultural and natural resources.”
Melanie Barnes, the state director of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) New Mexico office, emphasized the Placitas area’s significance for Tribal Nations and the local community. The region contains archaeological resources dating back hundreds of years and is popular for hiking, camping, sightseeing, and hunting.
The BLM’s proposal aims to “protect, preserve, and promote the scenic integrity, cultural importance, recreational values, and wildlife habitat connectivity” in the area.
The Pueblo tribes of San Felipe and Santa Ana had previously advocated for protections in this region, emphasizing its archaeological significance. The proposed action aligns with their concerns and priorities.
In 2019, while serving in Congress and as vice chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, Secretary Haaland introduced the Buffalo Tract Protection Act, which mirrors the recent proposal. She cited the pollution and environmental impact that local residents and tribal citizens experienced due to the area’s numerous mines.
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.) reintroduced the legislation earlier this year, consistently urging the DOI to block mineral development in Sandoval County.
The Congressional Budget Office conducted an assessment of the Buffalo Tract Protection Act using information from the BLM. The report, issued in August, highlighted that the region affected by the mineral ban has a high potential for sand and gravel extraction, which is essential for infrastructure projects like road construction. It also indicated minimal potential for the development of other minerals.
However, the report projected that the land withdrawal would result in a decrease of $2 million in federal revenue. Despite this fiscal impact, proponents of the measure stress the importance of preserving cultural heritage and protecting the environment in the region.
The Interior Department led by Haaland recently approved a land grab from the Navajo Nation around Chaco Canyon that marked off a ten-mile radius from new oil and natural gas leasing for the next 20 years, which will result in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue to the tribal nation.