Policy: Law

Court upholds Mount Taylor's cultural designation

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News,Business,Law

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a tribal cultural designation that protects hundreds of thousands of acres on Mount Taylor, which is known for its rich uranium reserves.

The justices said the New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee acted lawfully in 2009 when it granted the special designation for some 400,000 acres of public land on the western New Mexico mountain. The court did, however, reverse the panel's inclusion of 19,000 acres of land grant property, saying it was not state land as defined in the Cultural Properties Act.

Five tribes — the pueblos of Acoma, Zuni and Laguna; the Navajo Nation; and the Hopi Tribe in Arizona — nominated the protected area and worked to show why it should be preserved. The land near Grants is home to cultural resources like pilgrimage trails, shrines, archaeological sites, burial sites and petroglyphs.

But the designation was overturned in 2011 on a court challenge by uranium companies and private landowners after a state district judge ruled that all landowners were not properly notified.

Acoma Gov. Fred Vallo applauded the Supreme Court ruling, saying the land "is essential to maintaining our cultural heritage and vital to providing the resources needed to sustain our Pueblo people."

Opponents were concerned the designation would restrict recreational access and limit what private landowners could do on their property.

"While we are energized by this decision, we realize Mount Taylor's future is not yet secure," said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "We will continue to work with federal, state, local and tribal partners to ensure ongoing vigilance regarding outstanding uranium mining claims that would impact Mount Taylor."

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