FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 3, 2023
Contact: Abby Grehlinger, email@example.com, (856) 340-6656
New Mexicans Applaud the Introduction of Legislation to Protect Public Lands Surrounding Chaco Canyon from Oil and Gas Drilling
Indigenous communities, conservationists, preservationists, and other stakeholders in New Mexico push for
a mineral withdrawal on public lands
(Santa Fe, NM) – New Mexicans are applauding the reintroduction of the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act, supported by the entire New Mexico delegation – Senators Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich and Representatives Teresa Leger Fernández, Melanie Stansbury, and Gabe Vasquez. The legislation will permanently protect federal lands within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park from new oil and gas leasing. Originally introduced and passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2019, the legislation would protect nearly 339,000 acres of federal public lands, containing thousands of significant cultural properties and sites. The land that is being considered for withdrawal from future leasing does not include any private lands or allotments, is historically, spiritually, and ecologically significant to numerous Tribes in the Southwest, and its protection is critical.
This reintroduction comes as the Biden administration is preparing to decide whether or not to finalize its proposed 20-year administrative mineral withdrawal of federal lands and minerals surrounding Chaco Canyon from future oil and gas leasing. Today’s reintroduction further demonstrates the growing momentum behind lasting protections for this significant landscape.
Last June, following the initial comment period, the All Pueblo Council of Governors traveled to Washington, DC urging the Biden administration to protect Chaco Canyon. In a press release today, they stated, “The All Pueblo Council of Governors has taken action to protect the Greater Chaco Region by advocating for the withdrawal of federal lands from future mineral development within an especially critical 10-mile withdrawal area surrounding the Park and including its outliers; and seeking tribally-led cultural resource studies to inform and precede any other development decisions in the Greater Chaco Region, including oil and gas leasing.” Additionally, the BLM received over 80,000 public comments in support of the 10-mile withdrawal.
The Greater Chaco Landscape includes Chaco Culture National Historical Park and dozens of ancient villages, roads, and shrines that were built by the ancestors of the Pueblos and other Indigenous Nations which emerged and flourished in Chaco Canyon between 850 and 1250 A.D. Chaco Canyon has also been designated as a “World Heritage Site” as the culture and heritage of the Indigenous peoples of the American Southwest are inextricably linked to lasting protections for the Greater Chaco Landscape.
Over the years, reckless drilling has caused significant harm to the health of Indigenous and other local communities, air quality, and cultural values in the landscape surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Oil and gas wells, roads, pipelines, and other infrastructure have destroyed significant cultural sites and transformed others into industrial parks. To allow more drilling in this area would completely disregard the calls from the Pueblos, Tribes, and other communities who share a deep connection to Chaco Canyon.
The proposed legislation would ensure the permanent protection of roughly 339,000 acres of public lands surrounding the park, which contain thousands of archaeological and cultural sites, and would also help protect local communities from the impacts of additional drilling.
Below are several statements detailing broad support for increased protections for the Greater Chaco landscape, as the Department of the Interior works to finalize its proposed withdrawal and Congress considers permanent protections.
“As an organization dedicated to preserving and restoring the land and culture of Indigenous peoples, we recognize the importance of safeguarding ancestral cultural and ecological heritage,” said Keegan King, Executive Director of the Native Land Institute. “The proposed legislation championed by Senators Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich and Congresswomen Teresa Leger Fernández and Melanie Stansbury would permanently protect nearly 339,000 acres of public lands within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park from new oil and gas leasing. We stand with Indigenous communities who have long called for the protection of the Greater Chaco Landscape, and we believe that the proposed federal land withdrawal would allow for Indigenous communities to continue using and developing their lands within the zone. Protecting the Greater Chaco Landscape is critical to preserving its irreplaceable historic significance and rare ecosystems, which are already under pressure from grazing and mineral and fossil fuel extraction. As such, we urge Congress to pass the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act and uphold the right of Indigenous peoples to both protect and develop their ancestral lands.”
“We are grateful to Senators Luján and Heinrich, Congresswomen Leger Fernández and Stansbury, and Congressman Vasquez for championing this issue and reintroducing the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act,” said Paul F. Reed, Preservation Archaeologist at Archaeology Southwest. “We have pushed for the 10-mile cultural protection zone since 2016 and are pleased with this. Safeguarding Chaco from more drilling honors the decades-long effort on behalf of Pueblos, Tribes, and communities to protect this ancestral culture, landscape, and history of the Pueblo people who created this amazing place. The structures, sacred places, and other cultural resources in Chaco Canyon have stood for hundreds of years, and if we do our part and act as good stewards, they can stand for hundreds more.”
“We’re incredibly excited for the reintroduction of the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act, and celebrate the intentional permanent protection of a space of immeasurable significance to the Puebloan and Diné peoples. We thank Senators Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich and Congresswomen Teresa Leger Fernández and Melanie Stansbury for their intentional movement in the right direction,” said Kacey Hovden, New Mexico Program Manager for Nuestra Tierra Conservation Project. “This movement has been led by and for the Indigenous communities of the Region, and is a culmination of intentional partnerships that we hope our state and federal leaders continue to actively and deliberately foster going forward. The Greater Chaco Region belongs to the Indigenous communities of the Southwest, and it is long due for land management planning to be centered on the voices of the communities this land is sacred to.”
“Thank you Senators Ben Ray Luján and Heinrich and Representatives Teresa Leger Fernández, Stansbury, and Vasquez for championing legislation that will dramatically reduce the threat that oil and gas drilling poses to Chaco Canyon. Your work recognizes that the Greater Chaco Landscape’s irreplaceable treasures, including wildlife, require and deserve high-level protections. We look forward to working with Congress and the Biden administration to move this bill forward, as well as the Interior Department’s proposed administrative withdrawal, to help ensure future generations can enjoy and experience the wonders of Chaco Canyon,” said Jesse Deubel, Executive Director for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation.
“We are grateful to Senators Ben Ray Lujan and Martin Heinrich, and Representatives Melanie Stansbury, Teresa Leger Fernández, and Gabe Vasquez for taking action to protect the irreplaceable culture, heritage, and health of our New Mexico communities by reintroducing the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act. By permanently withdrawing the federal lands and minerals around Chaco Canyon from future leasing and expanded development, this bill will help safeguard our families and a sacred place from the harm caused by reckless oil and gas drilling. We look to our leaders in Washington to hear community voices and pass this legislation, in addition to enacting the administrative withdrawal, to secure a future in which our children and this one-of-a-kind landscape can thrive,” said Amber Wallin, Executive Director, New Mexico Voices for Children.
“Chaco Canyon is a spectacular landscape that tells the story of the rich history, culture, spirituality, and resilience of Indigenous communities throughout the Southwest and remains a sacred place for Indigenous people today. It is also home to a diverse array of wildlife and remarkable biodiversity. Thanks to sponsors Senator Luján and Congresswoman Leger Fernández for their leadership in crafting this legislation – and the strong support from the entire New Mexico delegation – for working to safeguard this important national treasure for future generations,” said Andrew Black, public lands field director for the National Wildlife Federation.
“Thanks to our New Mexico leaders for stepping up to protect the Greater Chaco landscape,” said Ellen Montgomery, Public Lands Campaign director with Environment New Mexico and Environment America. “We urge Congress to pass this bill and permanently protect the habitats of the elk, bobcats, rabbits, porcupines, badgers, wild horses and more than 100 bird species that live in and around the canyon. Chaco Canyon is a national treasure and we should protect as much of the area as possible for future generations.”
“Conservation Lands Foundation is proud to join the Pueblos of New Mexico and the American Southwest in support of protecting the Greater Chaco landscape. For too long, oil and gas leasing has threatened this incredible landscape sacred to countless Indigenous communities in this region,” said Romir Lahiri, New Mexico Associate Program Director for the Conservation Lands Foundation. “We are grateful to New Mexico Senators Luján and Heinrich and Representatives Leger Fernández, Stansbury, and Vasquez for listening to local communities advocating for this landscape’s permanent protection and reintroducing the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act. We urge Congress to pass this important bill as soon as possible to protect this living landscape.”
“National Parks Conservation Association has seen overwhelming support from our members and supporters across the U.S. for ending new leasing on federal lands surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park. This legislation will protect and help heal this globally important cultural landscape, and we’re grateful to join the effort led by Pueblo and Diné organizers and leaders along with fellow community, conservation and historic preservation allies. We thank Senators Luján and Heinrich and Representatives Leger Fernández, Stansbury, and Vasquez for their leadership. Preventing expanded development on federal lands will protect the cultural and ecological values of sites, communities and Tribes who live and practice traditional activities across this landscape,” said Emily Wolf, New Mexico Senior Program Coordinator for the National Parks Conservation Association.
“We thank Senators Luján and Heinrich, Congresswomen Leger Fernández and Stansbury, and Congressman Gabe Vasquez for their leadership proposing these mineral withdrawals in this one-of-a-kind and sacred place. Greater Chaco constitutes a living cultural landscape to the Puebloan and Diné people. Respect for this alone demands that protections be put in place,” said Mark Allison, Executive Director of New Mexico Wild. “Greater Chaco is also important for its night skies, paleontology, remnant wildness, natural beauty, and wildlife habitat. Prohibiting new leasing is critical to combating climate change and improving air quality and public health. New Mexico Wild is proud to stand in solidarity with Pueblo leadership in calling for this crucial step toward providing the Greater Chaco Landscape the protections that it deserves.”
“Today, we celebrate the introduction of necessary legislation that would permanently protect the Greater Chaco Landscape from more drilling, putting the interests of the Pueblo, Navajo and other Tribes and local communities first over the interests of extractive and dangerous industries,” said Michael Casaus, New Mexico State Director of The Wilderness Society. “We continue to throw our advocacy behind the 20-year withdrawal, and we know the Chaco Cultural Heritage Protection Act is needed as a permanent reprieve from the threats facing these culturally important lands and the communities living here today. We thank Senators Ben Ray Luján and Martin Heinrich, and Congresswomen Teresa Leger Fernández, Melanie Stansbury and Congressman Gabe Vasquez for their work to introduce this critical legislation.”
The proposed withdrawal would only impact federal surface and subsurface land. It would not impact Navajo and private land that is checkerboarded within the zone, so Tribal members who live in the area would still be able to freely use and develop their land.
Additionally, beyond the ten-mile zone around Chaco Culture National Historical Park there are much broader threats to cultural and natural resources and communities in northwestern New Mexico. Over the past few decades, BLM has leased over 90 percent of federal lands surrounding Chaco Canyon for drilling, and oil and gas companies have drilled more than 37,000 wells in the area and built a sprawling network of roads (15,000 miles) that’s five times greater than the distance from Los Angeles to New York.