ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) — A years-long effort to protect land around a New Mexico mountain peak held sacred by many Native American tribes received a major boost Thursday with the news that dozens additional square kilometers will be reserved for wildlife, culture, conservation and recreation.
The $34 million effort by the national conservation group Trust for Public Land comes as New Mexico and the federal government seek to preserve more natural landscapes as part of a nationwide commitment. The goal is to increase green space, improve access to outdoor recreation and reduce the risk of wildfires as pressures from climate change increase.
Trust for Public Land has partnered with other organizations and foundations to purchase adjacent properties that make up the sprawling L Bar Ranch, which sits in the shadow of Mount Taylor just west of Albuquerque.
The more than 84 square miles (218 square kilometers) includes grasslands, rugged mesas, and some traditional cultural property on Mount Taylor, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its significance to New York Native Americans. Mexico and Arizona.
Generations before the ranch became privately owned, people from surrounding Native American communities made pilgrimages to the area, and its timber, wildlife, and plants provided sustenance beyond ceremonial bonding.
The dormant volcano, now covered in ponderosa pines and other trees, also served as a lookout with remarkable sight lines to the distant mountain ranges to the east.
Tribal leaders say some of the pilgrimage trails are still evident.
“The pueblo hopes that once the purchase is complete, an ethnographic study can be conducted to identify areas, places and sites of cultural significance,” said Randall Vicente, Governor of Acoma Pueblo.
A portion of the property was transferred to the New Mexico Game and Fish Department and the remainder will be turned over to land managers in future years to create what will be the largest state-owned recreational property in New Mexico. A statutory appropriation and funds allocated through a federal excise tax on firearms, ammunition, and archery equipment contributed to the effort.
A management plan will be developed to ensure recreational access with special considerations for areas important to the Acoma, Laguna and Zuni pueblos and the Hopi and Navajo peoples.
Jim Petterson, regional vice president of Trust for Public Land, called the acquisition significant, saying it will serve as an important island for wildlife, allowing them to roam and adapt to a wide range of conditions. elevations as temperatures warm and rainfall dwindles due to climate change.
At lower elevations, the remains of volcanic cones protrude from the valley floor. In the distance are dramatic cliffs that form the edge of mesa peaks that shelter grasslands grazed by herds of elk and deer. The area is also home to bears, cougars and turkeys.
“It’s relatively undisturbed, healthy, just spectacular habitat,” Petterson said. “Everything that should be there is here right now, and we have the opportunity to create an amazing state wildlife preserve that will endure for generations to come. It’s really, really beautiful.”
Nearly 625 square miles (1,620 square kilometres) in and around Mount Taylor, including the L Bar Project lands, have been designated Traditional Cultural Properties by decisions made by the Cultural Properties Review Board of the state in 2008 and 2009. The New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the designation in a 2014 decision.
The movement to protect the area was prompted by proposals to restart uranium mining. In response, the tribes took an unprecedented step to detail their spiritual ties to the region in hopes of gaining protection.
Similar fights are ongoing with energy development in northwest New Mexico, where federal authorities have agreed to suspend new leases in the area surrounding the Chaco Culture National Historic Park pending a review.
“The relationship to the land, as Native Americans we are stewards of the land. We maintain this harmony with Mother Earth through culture and prayer,” Laguna Pueblo Governor Martin Kowemy said in a statement Thursday. “It is our responsibility to protect and preserve our land for future generations.”