Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
It was more than a decade in the making, but a land swap between the U.S. Forest Service and Sandia Pueblo is about to conclude, awaiting only a signature from President Barack Obama.
As a result, a roughly 700-acre parcel of land on the west face of the Sandia Mountains and located near Placitas, will be signed over to Sandia Pueblo.
In turn, the pueblo will exchange about 160 acres of land along the Piedra Lisa Trail, which the Forest Service will maintain as a conservation easement, as well as a 70-acre parcel called the La Luz Tract that butts up to the La Luz Trail.
Under the terms of the federal legislation, none of the lands in the swap may be developed, said Dominic Gabello, chief of staff for Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., primary sponsor of the Sandia Pueblo Settlement Technical Amendment Act, which passed the House on Wednesday.
Co-sponsoring the legislation were Reps. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., and Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M. A Senate version of the legislation sponsored by New Mexico Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich passed earlier this year.
The legislation amends the 2003 T’uf Shur Bien Preservation Trust Area Act, enacted into law more 11 years ago to resolve Sandia Pueblo’s long-standing claim to 10,000 acres on the west face of the Sandia Mountains. That act allowed for the pueblo to continue using the land for religious purposes and gave it control over some future uses, while title of the land remained with the federal government. It also required the Forest Service to consider the land exchange, which lies outside the preservation trust area.
“Passage of this legislation moves the pueblo closer to securing their sacred lands for future generations,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “Tribal communities across the nation face difficulties accessing and protecting sacred sites that have religious and cultural significance, and whenever possible it is the responsibility of Congress to place these sites under tribal control.”
That was a large part of the argument made by Sandia Pueblo Gov. Stuart Paisano and the pueblo’s Tribal Council in claiming ownership of the thousands of acres of national forest land in the Sandia Mountains. Those property rights were mistakenly omitted from a federal survey about 150 years ago, Paisano said.
“Sandia Pueblo’s overall goal was to preserve and protect the Sandia Mountains from any future development,” Paisano said. “That was always our fear.”
As added insurance, several years ago the pueblo purchased about 200 acres from a private owner. That land will now be added to the 700 acre parcel in Placitas. In addition, the La Luz Tract, which will now become protected Forest Service land, had previously been in private hands before also being purchased by the pueblo, Paisano said.
“All current Forest Service-approved uses for the Sandia Wilderness designated area will continue,” he added. “Nobody who currently uses the land is being excluded, and hasn’t been since the original act passed 11 years ago.”
Paisano thanked the Forest Service for its cooperation and assistance in working with the pueblo and New Mexico’s congressional delegation on the bill.
“It was truly a bipartisan, group effort that seems all too rare in recent years, and the Pueblo extends its sincere thanks to all who were involved and lent their support,” he said.