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News Release

New Mexico Wild

Yesterday, Senators Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich, and Congresswomen Teresa Leger Fernández and Melanie Stansbury reintroduced the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, respectively, a bill to prevent future mineral leasing on federally owned lands around Chaco Canyon.

The Chaco Cultural Heritage Protection Act would withdraw approximately 338,690 acres of minerals owned by the federal government from future leasing and development located within an approximately 10-mile protected radius around Chaco. The Act affects only federal public lands and does not affect mineral rights owned by the State of New Mexico, tribal entities, or private individuals. The bill was originally introduced in the 116th Congress in 2019 and subsequently passed the U.S. House of Representatives on October 30, 2019.

Earlier this year, Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a proposal for an administrative mineral withdrawal, which would prevent new leasing for a period of twenty years. The initial public comment period for that proposal concluded on May 6, 2022, and over ninety thousand comments were submitted in support of the withdrawal. Last week, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a draft environmental assessment, recommending that Secretary Haaland approve the proposed administrative protections. 

Secretary Haaland co-sponsored the original legislation when she was in Congress representing New Mexico CD1. The legislation introduced today, once passed, would make protections permanent.

Over the years, oil and gas activity on public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management has crept steadily closer to Chaco Culture National Historical Park (Chaco Culture NHP). Federal lands surrounding Chaco Culture NHP are managed by Bureau of Land Management’s Farmington Field Office (FFO). Approximately 90% of the federal lands in the FFO are already leased for oil and gas development.

Immediately north and east of Chaco Culture National Historical Park lies one of the last remaining blocks of unleased federal land in the FFO. This area contains thousands of significant cultural resources that are affiliated with Chaco Culture NHP, including outlying settlements and “roads” that connect Chaco Culture NHP to these settlements, along with other natural and cultural features. The area is cherished for its dark skies, paleontology, natural beauty, and wildlife habitat.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park and the cultural and historical sites in the surrounding landscape, including several on federal land managed by Bureau of Land Management, are part of the Chaco Culture World Heritage Site. This is the only such site under the care and protection of the BLM.

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The Greater Chaco area constitutes a living cultural landscape of great spiritual significance to Puebloan people today. In recent years, and in response to encroaching oil and gas activity, the All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG) has repeatedly called on the federal government to enact stronger protections for the Greater Chaco Landscape. In particular, APCG has requested that federal lands and minerals within approximately ten miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park be permanently withdrawn from future oil and gas leasing.  

More information on the bill can be found here.

“We express our profound thanks to Senators Luján and Heinrich and to Representatives Leger Fernández and Stansbury for their continued leadership in protecting this one-of-a-kind and sacred place. Many Chacoan sites exist outside the Park's official boundaries, so lease sales by the Bureau of Land Management in the surrounding area almost always result in the loss of artifacts, history, and sacred sites as well as wildlands, habitat, and dark skies,” said Mark Allison, Executive Director of New Mexico Wild. “Prohibiting new leasing in Greater Chaco is critical to combating climate change and to improving air quality and public health. New Mexico Wild is proud to stand in solidarity with the All Pueblo Council of Governors and its leadership in calling for this crucial step toward providing the Greater Chaco Landscape with the protection that it deserves.”

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