Udall, Heinrich Call for Senate Committee to Move Chaco Protection Legislation Forward

WASHINGTON  U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich wrote to the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee leadership requesting that the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act be included in the committee’s next business meeting, where the committee could vote to report the bill out of committee and move it to the Senate floor. A committee markup represents the next step forward in advancing the bill and permanently protecting archeologically and culturally significant sites around Chaco Culture National Historical Park.  Udall and Heinrich’s request comes after the Department of Interior updated its testimony on the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act and clarified it has no objection to the legislation.

“We respectfully request that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee consider marking up S. 1079, the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act, during its next business meeting,” the senators wrote. “By establishing the Proposed Chaco Protection Zone, this bill will protect a sacred and fragile landscape from further development, without impacting existing operations, including those of Indian Tribes and allottees within the zone.”

The Chaco Cultural Heritage Protection Act of 2019, S. 1079, supported by the full New Mexico delegation, would prevent any future leasing or development of minerals owned by the U.S. government on lands within an approximately 10-mile protected radius around Chaco, which includes many sites that are sacred and culturally important to the Pueblos and Navajo Nation. The legislation is supported by Navajo Nation, All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG), New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, and Southwest Native Cultures, and many other organizations.

Secretary David Bernhardt recently visited the Chaco Culture National Historical Park (CCNHP) with Senator Heinrich and has directed BLM to defer leasing within the 10-mile buffer zone for one year. 

Underscoring their plans to move the bill as quickly as possible, Udall and Heinrich have also filed the Chaco Cultural Heritage Protection Act as an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is slated to come to the Senate floor next week.

The full text of the letter is available HERE and below.

Dear Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Manchin:

We respectfully request that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee consider marking up S. 1079, the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act, during its next business meeting.

By establishing the Proposed Chaco Protection Zone, this bill will protect a sacred and fragile landscape from further development, without impacting existing operations, including those of Indian Tribes and allottees within the zone. 

Since the Committee held its hearing on this bill, Secretary Bernhardt visited this national treasure with Senator Heinrich. There, the Secretary noted that he “walked away with a greater sense of appreciation of the magnificent site managed by the National Park Service and a better understanding of tribal leaders’ views of its cultural significance.” Interior has now updated its testimony on this legislation as a result of that visit, and further clarified that it has “no objection” to this legislation. We have attached for your consideration the Secretary’s letter to the House Natural Resources Committee in which the Department sets forth this position.

While we welcome the Department’s recent commitment to forgo leasing in the areas covered by this bill for one year, the length of that commitment only underscores that permanent protection by legislation is needed. We therefore ask that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee include this bill in the committee’s next business meeting.