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SANTA FE – A pueblo group has alleged the federal Bureau of Land Management is mismanaging and not doing enough to protect sacred sites in the Caja del Rio Plateau area, also known as La Bajada, in the wake of a recent desecration of an ancient petroglyph site.
Defacement of petroglyphs with spray paint and scratching at La Cieneguilla recreation area, southwest of Santa Fe on BLM-managed land, was discovered this week.
“I think that what happened at the site is an example of mismanagement and the lack of surveillance and security in the area is allowing for this place to be desecrated,” said Julia Bernal, director of Pueblo Action Alliance, part of the Caja del Rio Coalition.
The BLM does its best to protect large swaths of land, BLM spokeswoman Julia Aragon said in a Friday phone interview.
“Our agency manages millions of acres and we do the best we can to manage and maintain, and this area is actually one of the most patrolled areas that we have in the Taos Field Office area,” she said. No suspects in the desecration have been identified as far as she is aware, Aragon said.
Bernal described the Caja del Rio Coalition as a group of grassroots conservation organizations “working to create stricter protections for this area because it is facing a lot of issues around vandalism.”
There have been “a lot of folks using that area as an unsurveillanced and unregulated shooting range but this area is a very significant and sacred landscape to pueblo people,” Bernal said.
The BLM “can’t control what the public does when they (BLM officials) are not present,” Aragon said.
The coalition has reached out to the BLM and the New Mexico congressional delegation seeking “opportunities for the pueblos to be more involved in how this land is being managed,” Bernal said. The BLM “needs to conduct meaningful consultation,” Bernal said.
The BLM has an “ongoing relationship with our tribal partners,” Aragon said. “I’ll share that with our leadership team that that (consultation) is being requested,” Aragon said.
“We are dedicated to preserving this area and doing our best to clean up the damage that was done,” Aragon said.
The vandalism cleanup is in the works and special products were ordered with the goal of removing the graffiti in a “delicate procedure” done with the help of professionals, while preserving the petroglyphs, she said.
Bernal said her group wants to preserve the sacred lands for pueblo youth.
“They have a birthright to enjoy what their ancestors left behind for them and acts like this really do impede on our rights as Indigenous peoples.”