Land Commissioner Adopts Cultural Properties Protection Rule
NM State Land Office among the first in the nation to protect cultural resources on state trust lands
Rule to go live December 1, 2022
SANTA FE, N.M. – Recognizing that New Mexico’s state trust land has been occupied by people for millennia, with much of it ancestral to Native Tribes and Nations, New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard today announced the first ever rule of its kind designed to protect cultural resources on state trust lands has been formally published in the New Mexico Register, and will take effect on December 1, 2022. The rule requires lessees of state trust lands to conduct informational reviews and cultural resource surveys before engaging in new development on state trust land.
The purpose of the new Cultural Properties Protection Rule is to proactively identify archaeological sites and other cultural resources on state trust lands and protect them before they are damaged; resources that are often sacred and significant to Native people and contribute to the archeological knowledge of New Mexico.
The rule provides for important exceptions, including repairs and maintenance of existing structures such as fences and water tanks, that do not involve additional surface disturbance. In addition, the State Land Office has launched the Cultural Survey Support Program in conjunction with the rule to help agricultural lessees and others with the survey process and to provide additional information and support regarding how to comply with the rule.
“The previous approach to cultural properties on trust lands was, ‘if you break it, you buy it,’ and that simply isn’t good enough,” said Commissioner Garcia Richard. “This rule gives my staff the tools and authority to ensure parcels are thoroughly surveyed for cultural properties before irreparable harm is done. Cultural properties found on state trust lands are very much a part of New Mexico’s story, and it is my duty to protect these resources as much as the land itself. I’m grateful to those who made their voices heard regarding the development of the rule, and I especially appreciate the input from Tribes and Pueblos, which was essential to crafting an appropriate and effective rule.”
“This rule is the first step in acknowledging the history of land theft from Tribes, the original and rightful stewards of the land we manage,” said Rachael Lorenzo, Assistant Commissioner of Cultural Resources at the State Land Office. “The rule is the least we can do to help avoid the destruction of Tribes’ heritage and ongoing connection to landscapes on state trust land.”
“As director of a Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO), we are grateful for the continued commitment Commissioner Garcia Richard has put forth toward protecting our cultural resources for Pueblos and Tribes in New Mexico. The Cultural Properties Protection Rule will allow for the first time a thorough identification of archaeological and cultural resources on state lands before they are developed,” said Theresa Pasqual, Director of the Acoma Historic Preservation Office. “Past surveys were only done through the lens of western trained archaeologists, Pueblo and Tribes now have the opportunity to partner with the State Land Office to identify resources of importance to their respective communities. In doing so, we can learn so much more about what makes these lands precious and deserving of well-developed management plans. We owe this much to the future generations of Pueblo and Native children who will inherit this cultural legacy.”
To date, only about 600,000 acres of state trust lands have been surveyed for cultural properties, which equates to about 6.71% of the 9 million surface acres in the state. The State Land Office has identified about 11,190 archaeological sites on trust lands, including indigenous hunting sites that are more than 13,000 years old. The State Land Office began a formal archaeological damage assessment program and started tracking metrics in 2014. Since then, the program has identified 18 cases with 35 sites that have been damaged.
Commissioner Garcia Richard also established the first-ever Cultural Resources Office within the State Land Office in February 2021 to provide successful implementation of the rule and to ensure that agency staff are good stewards of trust lands in a way that honors the histories of Tribes, Pueblos and Nations. She announced the proposed Cultural Properties Protection Rule in August 2021 and accepted input from New Mexicans and stakeholders during an extensive public comment period. In all, around 35 individual written comments were submitted, overwhelmingly in favor of the proposed rule.
In addition to requiring surveys under the new rule, the Cultural Resources Office staff is committed to conducting additional surveys in-house or in partnership with contractors when possible through the Cultural Survey Support Program, which will also help lessees that may be unable to afford the cost of a survey for a smaller project. The Cultural Resources Office also stands ready to assist lessees and other interested parties with understanding and complying the rule.
Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard has overseen the New Mexico State Land Office since 2019. In that time the agency has raised more than $5 billion for New Mexico public schools, hospitals, and universities. Over 13 million acres of state trust land are leased for a variety of uses, including ranching and farming, renewable energy, business development, mineral development, and outdoor recreation. The State Land Office has a dual mandate to use state trust land to financially support vital public institutions, while simultaneously working to protect the land for future generations.