Who controls the Sandias?

  When families in Albuquerque want to get away from it all, they need only look east, to the Sandia Mountains, where foothills begin just beyond the city limits. So residents and elected officials were shocked when a federal judge issued a ruling in July that was widely interpreted as handing over much of the western face of the mountains to an Indian tribe.

"This places hundreds of Albuquerque homeowners' property rights, and the public's traditional access to the public lands, in doubt," said Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, both Republicans, in a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, urging the Justice Department to appeal the judge's decision.

The nearly 10,000 acres covered by the ruling includes a hiking trail that goes 4,000 feet up from the city's edge to the crest of the mountains, prime rock-climbing routes, and the Sandia Peak Tramway, a major tourist draw.

The land had been part of the Cibola National Forest. But the 500-member Sandia Pueblo, just north of the city, went to court almost four years ago to argue that its eastern boundary was erroneously drawn at the foothills of the mountains by federal surveyors in 1859. The pueblo argued that, according to a 1748 Spanish land grant, the boundary should have extended all the way to the crest, and U.S. District Judge Harold Greene agreed.

The land claimed by the pueblo includes some of Albuquerque's toniest neighborhoods, including the home of Republican Gov. Gary Johnson. The pueblo says it's not including those neighborhoods in its claim, but residents say they fear the pueblo might one day shut down access or cut off utilities to their houses.

"We think the fears are unfounded," Sandia Pueblo Gov. Alex Lujan wrote the Albuquerque Journal in August. "Our policy simply is to be good stewards of the land as well as good neighbors."

*John Hill

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