The New Mexico Supreme Court handed the pueblos of Acoma and Laguna a victory Thursday, upholding a state panel’s designation of Mount Taylor as a traditional cultural property.
The ruling effectively protects the cultural resources on more than 686 square miles of land that includes Mount Taylor and nearby mesas. Though it isn’t clear what the designation means for existing activities, it does limit uranium mining in the area. Companies and permitting agencies will have to consult with tribes and pueblos before any mining is allowed, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
In a statement issued Thursday after the ruling, Acoma Gov. Fred S. Vallo Sr. said Mount Taylor, which his pueblo calls Kaweshtima, “is essential to our maintaining our cultural heritage and vital to providing the resources needed to sustain our Pueblo people. This has been the impetus for seeking the designation.”
Mount Taylor was once mined for uranium, and companies have been exploring the possibility of new mining activity. While some local officials want the mining and the jobs it will bring, tribes and environmentalists have fought against uranium mining.
The pueblos of Acoma and Laguna were among five tribes that asked the state Cultural Properties Review Committee in 2008 to protect the 11,305-foot extinct volcano north of Grants. Zuni and Hopi pueblos and the Navajo tribes joined the request.
The U.S. Forest Service had issued a report saying the mountain was eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with archaeological sites dating to A.D. 500. Private property owners opposed the designation, saying it could hurt their property rights and restrict their access to Mount Taylor.
In 2009, the Cultural Properties Review Committee approved designating more than 430,000 acres as traditional cultural property. Private property owners, uranium-mining companies, owners of the Cebolleta Land Grant and the state land commissioner appealed the order to the 5th Judicial District Court. In the same year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed Mount Taylor as an endangered historic place.
The District Court overturned the committee’s decision, and the case went to the state Supreme Court in 2011. Meanwhile, the Cibola National Forest began reviewing applications for companies to drill for uranium in the Mount Taylor area.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court justices unanimously upheld the committee’s designation of Mount Taylor, saying the listing did not violate due process. The justices did, however, reverse the committee’s inclusion of 19,000 acres of the Cebolleta Land Grant as traditional cultural property, holding it is not state land.
Contact Staci Matlock at 986-3055 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @stacimatlock.