SF New Mexican: To protect Chaco, the time to act is now

Dear Friend,

Chaco Canyon is truly one of the most important cultural sites on Earth. It deserves to be protected from any harmful development that would threaten to damage its precious historical and cultural resources. That's why I joined Senator Tom Udall, New Mexico's Pueblos, and the Navajo Nation to introduce the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act. Our bill would ensure the protection of Chaco ruins and the greater landscape surrounding the Chaco Culture National Historical Park by preventing any future leasing or development of minerals owned by the U.S. government that are located within a protected radius around Chaco. 

I hope you can take a moment to read and share the editorial in yesterday's Santa Fe New Mexican about our legislation. We have our work cut out for us, but I am going to fight every step of the way alongside the New Mexicans raising their voices to safeguard Chaco's irreplaceable cultural sites and resources.


United States Senator

To protect Chaco, the time to act is now

The New Mexican

May 23, 2018

The potential destruction of fragile country around the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area in northwest New Mexico needs attention from Congress before it is too late.

U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have introduced legislation that would withdraw lands around Chaco Canyon from further development by the federal government, protecting the Chaco ruins and the larger landscape that surrounds the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

As Udall said in his statement: "The greater Chaco region is a New Mexico treasure. Many tribes and Pueblos in Northern New Mexico can trace their ancestry and culture to Chaco, and consider these sites sacred."

The area is under threat because of increased energy development in the region, risking future archaeological discoveries as well as intruding on the sacred nature of the place.

Setting up additional protections has become critical as the Trump administration proposes to issue new oil and gas leases in more of the land around Chaco Canyon, moving ever closer to ruins that are irreplaceable.

With an administration in place that is friendly to all sorts of energy development, no matter how pristine the land or ocean, the bill has a hard road ahead.

But respect for the sacred site can unite people from different parties. Respect for the wildlands of the West also can bring at least some lawmakers together.

Most of all, the public at large understands that a place like Chaco, once lost, cannot be restored. This legislation would prevent further losses at this important site.

The act would withdraw from future leasing and development minerals owned by the U.S. government located in the Proposed Chaco Protection Zone around the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

It would remove 316,076 acres of oil, natural gas, coal and other minerals from the 909,000 acres of the Proposed Chaco Protection Zone, excluding minerals owned by private, state and tribal entities.

"This bill is about listening to New Mexicans, and especially tribal communities, who have called for us to protect the integrity of Chaco Canyon," Heinrich said.

Backing the legislation are the Navajo Nation, All Pueblo Council of Governors, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, the Wilderness Society and Southwest Native Cultures. Now, supporters of protecting Chaco Canyon must concentrate on winning broad support from across the United States.

This likely will not be an easy task. After all, the Indians of Taos Pueblo did not quickly win back their sacred Blue Lake.

The lake and thousands of acres were lost in 1906, and the campaign to win them back spanned decades until President Richard Nixon signed legislation returning the land in 1970.

The fight to preserve Chaco Canyon cannot take decades - too much would be lost - but passing this important legislation is a step in the right direction. Remember, too, that Chaco is not just a New Mexico treasure.

Like Stonehenge in England or the Sphinx in Egypt, it belongs to all of humanity.