Park It

A bill to transform Bandelier into a national park would safeguard the land and the Native Americans who worship there

A few years back, US Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, spent spring break camping and backpacking with his family in Bandelier National Monument.

"We experienced Bandelier's incredible geology and living history and I really left with a deep sense of purpose for protecting this extraordinary place," Heinrich said during a press briefing today tied to his introduction of legislation to transform Bandelier into a national park. The "Bandelier National Park and Preserve Establishment Act" also would create a tribal commission, an "historic precedent," Heinrich said, that would provide guidance to the Park Service on what the senator characterized as a "living cultural landscape."

"Traditional knowledge will be required by statute to be integrated into land management planning," Heinrich said. "Additionally the bill would permanently safeguard religious rights and practices that are ongoing in Bandelier."

The bill has the support of numerous Native American tribes and pueblos, including Santa Clara Pueblo, whose governor, Michael Chavarria, joined the call to reiterate his support, describing Bandelier as a "spiritual sanctuary for Santa Clara Pueblo" and an "outdoor cathedral that must be protected now and into the future."

Heinrich referenced Bandelier's history, in which a previous attempt to make it a national park stalled out due to bureaucratic gridlock. President Woodrow Wilson, in response, designated Bandelier as a national monument in 1916 via the Antiquities Act.

More current presidential actions spurred Heinrich: In 2017, President Donald Trump decreased Bears Ears National Monument in Utah by 85 percent, a move Heinrich described as a "blatant attempt to open up over a million acres sacred to tribes for oil and gas exploration and uranium mining."

While Heinrich says he believes Trump's actions were illegal, "if the courts decide otherwise, we can no longer be confident that our most precious places in New Mexico won't be subjected to similar abuses of presidential power." That's why his bill, he says, "would permanently protect Bandelier from extractive industries by specifically prohibiting oil and gas drilling and other mineral and geothermal development within the park's boundaries."

Of its 33,000 acres, approximately 4,000 acres at the northwest section would be preserve rather than park, and available to hunters under the same program as the adjacent Valles Caldera National Preserve.

As for the rest of the land, Heinrich said he thought Bandelier, particularly the "front country that most people are familiar with," might see an uptick in visitors as a result of becoming a national park. "I think we'll see some recovery in visitation numbers," he said. "I wouldn't want to overplay that; visitation overall has really declined since the peak in the 1990s. I don't think we're going to see a point in the future where we necessarily exceed that previous historical peak, because it's a fairly remote place."

If legislation passes, Bandelier would become New Mexico's second national park, and the first for Northern New Mexico. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, in the southeastern corner of the state, contains some of the largest caves in North America.

"Creating this new national park is … the best way to ensure Bandelier's cultural treasures and Northern New Mexico's history and natural beauty receive the recognition nationally and protection they've always deserved," Heinrich said.

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