Court Gives Mixed Ruling on Jemez Pueblo Efforts to Acquire VCNP Land

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Jemez Pueblo may “use, occupy, and possess” the Banco Bonito area at the southwest corner of the Valles Caldera National Preserve.

In 2012, Jemez Pueblo sued the federal government, claiming that they had aboriginal title to the Valles Caldera National Preserve. They claimed that when the Caldera was granted to a group of aggrieved landowners from the Las Vegas, NM area in 1860, the Pueblo had not lost their ancestral claims to the land based on centuries of exclusive use of the area.

The courts have been working on this lawsuit for years. The Federal District Court ruled on the issue in 2012 and 2018 and now the 10th Circuit has ruled on the matter for the second time on two appeals. We don’t know if the US Department of Justice, representing the National Park Service will appeal this ruling. Jemez Pueblo also could appeal. Such appeals would go to the Supreme Court.

Jemez Pueblo has claimed that they exclusively used the Valles Caldera National Preserve area for centuries and should have aboriginal title to the land. The District Court discovered that many other native groups had used the area in prehistoric times and that Jemez Pueblo could not claim exclusive past use. The Pueblo appealed and in the latest ruling, a split panel of judges ruled that Jemez Pueblo has aboriginal rights to the Banco Bonito area only. The court did not specify boundaries of the Pueblo grant.

Jemez Pueblo at first had sought ownership of the entire VCNP then they scaled back their claims to four areas within the Valles Caldera including Redondo Peak, a shrine area, Valle San Antonio, and Banco Bonito.

Jemez Pueblo Governor Dominic Gachupin told local media that the Pueblo will continue their fight to obtain more VCNP lands.

Jemez Pueblo lies to the southwest of the Valles Caldera. Santa Fe National Forest lands south and west of the Valles Caldera contain thousands of Puebloan artifacts such as large Pueblo village ruins, small field house ruins, ancient farm fields, and other evidence of prehistoric Pueblo occupation of the area. Jemez Pueblo has not sought title to national forest lands but has focused on lands twice granted to the American people (including the tribes) by the US Congress and President of the United States within the Valles Caldera.

The National Park Service has invested considerable resources in Banco Bonito forest restoration work. The NPS has thinned the area and conducted numerous prescribed burns to create forest conditions that will eventually produce old-growth forest supportive of wildlife and a diverse plant community. The land had been logged and cattle grazed by private landowners before being acquired by the American people in 2000.

Cattle Trespass Talks Continue

Caldera Action joined with Wildearth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project in issuing a Notice of Intent to Sue the National Park Service and the US Forest Service under the Endangered Species Act regarding the ongoing problem of trespass cattle in the Valles Caldera. We have been joined in our effort by New Mexico Wild as well.

We are having a series of conversations with attorneys for the government, local agency managers, and our attorneys and staff to discuss ways to solve the trespass problem so we can hopefully avoid litigation and get the cows out of the Caldera over the long term. We will give you an update once we emerge from these talks.

National Park Traveler Runs Article on the Caldera

National Parks Traveler, a news source about the national parks, recently published an article about the Valles Caldera and its challenges. You can read the article here.

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