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Passage of House Interior spending bill step in right direction for Chaco

ALBUQUERQUE (June 25, 2019) – New Mexico Wild today is celebrating the passage of a Department of Interior spending bill by the House of Representatives that includes an amendment that would provide protections for the greater Chaco region. The amendment proposed by Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Lujan to the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations package would prohibit Interior from using federal funds to approve mineral development projects in a ten-mile buffer zone around Chaco Culture National Historical Park for the next fiscal year.

“Many Chacoan sites exist outside the Park's official boundaries, so lease sales by BLM in the surrounding area almost always mean the loss of artifacts, history, and sacred sites as well as wildlands, habitat and dark skies.  Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján’s amendment to the House Interior-Environment Appropriations spending bill represents a major step forward toward permanently protecting the area’s rich cultural heritage, world-class archaeological resources and sensitive natural landscape,” said Mark Allison, Executive Director of New Mexico Wild.  “We are grateful for Assistant Speaker Luján’s leadership fighting for a budget that reflects New Mexico values, and to our entire delegation for stepping up to protect Greater chaco.” 

Earlier this year, New Mexico’s entire Congressional delegation introduced the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act of 2019 to permanently remove all federal lands within ten miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park from future oil and gas drilling lease sales.

On May 22, 2018, Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich introduced an initial piece of legislation to protect the area surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which has been subjected to rampant oil and gas development for many decades. The areas immediately surrounding the park are some of the only places in the San Juan Basin that remain relatively undeveloped.

The bill that was introduced this spring is an updated version of the 2018 legislation. If it passes, no additional land managed by the Bureau of Land Management within ten miles of the park and certain significant outlying sites could ever be leased for mineral extraction. In addition, the legislation would permanently withdraw more than 300,000 acres of oil, natural gas, coal and other minerals owned by the U.S. Federal Government. Existing federal mineral leases as well future leases of state, tribal, and allottee minerals would not be impacted by this withdrawal. See map: Proposed Chaco Protection Zone.

Earlier this year, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) removed approximately 1,500 acres of land in the areas adjacent to Chaco Culture National Historical Park from an oil and gas lease sale after immense public outcry from local communities, tribes, and conservation organizations. The BLM made a similar decision in early 2018, temporarily deferring an oil and gas lease sale after facing immense public backlash for initially including parcels of land near Chaco in the sale.

The Chaco protection bill remedies the problem by permanently removing these parcels from the BLM’s consideration. Chaco and its surrounding areas are sacred to both the Navajo Nation and the pueblos of the Southwest. It contains myriad archaeological sites, including entire structures from thousands of years ago. It is still used today for religious ceremonies, and attracts visitors from all over the world, greatly contributing to the local economy.

On March 21, 2019, the Navajo Nation and the All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG) came together for a historic summit to declare their shared commitment to permanently protect the lands in the greater Chaco region. It was only the third meeting of its kind between the two bodies in the more than 400-year history of the APCG, with each meeting focusing on the need to protect Chaco and the surrounding areas.

The Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act of 2019 is supported by Navajo Nation, All Pueblo Council of Governors, New Mexico Wild, the Wilderness Society, and Southwest Native Cultures. A 2018 resolution in support of the original legislation from APCG can be found HERE.

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ABOUT THE NEW MEXICO WILDERNESS ALLIANCE: The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance or “New Mexico Wild” is a non-profit 501 (C)(3), independent, homegrown, grassroots, conservation organization dedicated to the protection, restoration and continued respect of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. With staff and thousands of supporters throughout the state, New Mexico Wild is dedicated to the rights and the value of citizen involvement in protecting increasingly rare wild places within public lands. Just as freedom is every American’s birthright so too is Wilderness.

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