Proposed Bill May Bring Protection for Cultural Resources on New Mexico State Lands

Posted on March 3, 2009


Picture 1.pngFreelance writer and former archaeologist Laura Paskus has written an excellent article for the Santa Fe Reporter on the lack of protection for cultural resources on state land in New Mexico. Development projects on federal land are subject to the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Natural Historic Preservation Act, both of which require pre-construction evaluation/survey of archaeological resources.

Many years ago, I worked for the Forest Service as a heritage resource technician in the Ouachita National Forest. Prior to timber sales, we had to do shovel testing on the entire area (save for slopes too steep for habitation). If a screen produced a lithic fragment, or if we stumbled across an old foundation in our forest wanderings, we were required to conduct a further, more detailed survey of the immediate area. For every project on federal land, and for projects utilizing federal funds, archaeological surveys such as these are required to determine whether resources will be damaged in the development process.

No such requirement exists for commercial lease of state lands in New Mexico. Developers are required to report if they find any archaeological remains during the construction process, but archaeologists have doubt as to whether they actually report given the guarantee of project delays. As few as 10% of developers conduct a voluntary archaeological survey prior to breaking ground.

Similar problems exist for environmental concerns, as industry is given carte blanche to occupy and even damage state lands.

A bill has been proposed by state Rep. Gail Chasey, the New Mexico Consolidated Environmental Review Act. This bill would require companies proposing projects on state lands to complete environmental and archaeological studies.

Read the full text of HB520 (the proposed New Mexico Consolidated Environmental Review Act).

Read the full article, Disturbing the Pieces, on the Santa Fe Reporter.