In a significant move to protect a valuable natural landscape in southern Sandoval County, this week the U.S. Department of the Interior proposed withdrawing approximately 4,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands from any mineral development for a substantial period of 50 years. This proposal has garnered enthusiastic support from various political leaders who have advocated for years to protect this area from mineral development, including U.S. Representative Melanie Stansbury and Senator Martin Heinrich. They jointly re-introduced the Buffalo Tract Protection Act in February 2023, reflecting the growing consensus on the need to safeguard this unique area. Senator Heinrich first introduced legislation with then-U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) in 2016.
The withdrawal area, which encompasses the Buffalo Tract and the Crest of Montezuma, holds immense ecological and cultural significance. Many experts and advocates argue that it is unsuitable for a gravel mine, primarily due to the potential for irreparable environmental damage. Furthermore, this region serves as a critical wildlife corridor that connects the Sandia Mountains to the South to the Rio Grande Valley and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the north, underlining its pivotal role in maintaining biodiversity.
Beyond its environmental importance, the Buffalo Tract holds deep cultural significance for Indigenous tribes and local communities. It is a sacred place interwoven with the history and traditions of the Pueblo of Santa Ana, the Pueblo of San Felipe, and the residents of Placitas. Preserving this area is not only about protecting nature but also honoring the heritage and spirituality of these communities.
The proposal to withdraw the Buffalo Tract from mineral development is considered a crucial step in preserving this cherished landscape and respecting the wishes of Indigenous and local communities. It signifies a responsive approach from Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and the Biden administration, acknowledging the persistent calls from New Mexicans who have tirelessly championed the protection of the Buffalo Tract for over a decade. The support of Senator Ben Ray Luján and U.S. Representative Teresa Leger Fernández further underscores the deep commitment to environmental conservation and the preservation of the area.
While the Department of the Interior’s proposal offers protection for the next 50 years, there is an ongoing push to solidify these safeguards permanently through the Buffalo Tract Protection Act. This legislative initiative aims to conclusively settle a long-standing debate and ensure that these parcels of land remain always shielded from future mineral development.
A 90-day public comment period on the proposal was announced on Monday, September 18th. The BLM will host a public meeting at the Placitas Community Library from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on November 14th.