Credit: Mike Beaumont for Unsplash


U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.) have introduced the Buffalo Tract Protection Act that withdraws four parcels of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in southern Sandoval County, including the Buffalo Tract and the Crest of Montezuma, from any mineral development, including gravel mining. U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representatives Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.) and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) are original cosponsors. 

The Buffalo Tract area included in the four parcels is sacred to The Santa Ana and San Felipe Pueblos who believe it should remain undeveloped with absolutely no gravel mining. Open-pit mining of gravel produces a class of particulates associated with desert winds and disturbed soil and can cause health problems, specifically respiratory health (lungs and airway) and secondary issues such as heart problems. Larger particles can stay in the air for minutes or hours and can travel as little as a hundred yards or as much as 30 miles. Smaller particles can stay in the air for days or weeks and can travel even farther, as in many hundreds of miles. 

“The surrounding community is united in their opposition to gravel mining on these public lands that serve as critical wildlife connections between the Sandia Mountains to the south and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the north,” said Heinrich, member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “I’m confident this is the Congress [during which] the New Mexico delegation comes together and successfully moves this legislation across the finish line,” he said in a press release.

“The protection of New Mexico’s land and water is integral to our cultures, ways of life, and the protection of our natural resources,” said Stansbury, member of the House Natural Resources Committee. “I am proud to re-introduce the Buffalo Tract Protection Act to protect the sacred and ancestral lands of San Felipe Pueblo and Santa Ana Pueblo, safeguard the health of our communities, and preserve our ecosystems for generations to come.” 

In the latter half of the 1990s, local supporters united in their opposition to any new gravel mining on the four tracts behind the legislation. Community members began to organize opposing any expansion of sand and gravel mining on BLM land, including the Buffalo Parcel. Their fears were concern for their health, that the mining would further damage the environment, drive out residents and halt in‐migration into the Placitas area, diminishing the economic impacts of the community.

There is no shortage of gravel resources in close‐by areas, according to BLM’s own data, where there would be far less population and negative economic impact that are not environmentally and culturally sensitive.

Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado, and other publications. She has taught and  practiced alternative healing methods for over thirty-five years.