WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján and Deb Haaland introduced the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act, S. 1079, a bill to withdraw the federal lands around Chaco Canyon from further mineral development. The bill, alongside anticipated actions from State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard, would help 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 an approximately 10-mile protected radius around Chaco.
"The greater Chaco region is a New Mexico treasure. Many Tribes in New Mexico can trace their ancestry and culture to Chaco, and consider these sites sacred. But even as archeologists are making exciting new discoveries about this region – and even as Tribes and the American public speak out in overwhelming support of protecting this precious landscape – Chaco is being threatened by expanding energy development, including recently proposed leasing inside this long-standing buffer zone. I am proud of my work with New Mexico’s Pueblos and the Navajo Nation to craft this bill to provide a fundamental baseline of protection for this sacred, archaeological wonder. This legislation honors New Mexico’s history and culture, recognizing that some places are just too special to lose,” said Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
“The Chaco region holds deep meaning to New Mexico's Pueblos, whose history and traditional knowledge live on in its thousands of ancestral sites, and to the Navajo Nation, whose lands and communities surround Chaco Culture National Historical Park. I’m proud to introduce legislation to protect the landscape nearest to the existing Park from federal mineral development. While we plan for any future energy development in the San Juan Basin, protecting these sites is something we should all be able to agree on. This is about listening to tribal leaders and all of the New Mexicans who are calling on us to preserve the integrity of Chaco’s irreplaceable resources. I will keep doing all I can to defend important cultural and religious sites and the sacred landscape of the greater Chaco region for future generations,” said Heinrich.
“This effort will preserve the greater Chaco region for generations to come. Chaco Canyon is sacred land that has been home to some of the most resilient communities in history, and it is our responsibility to protect against efforts that would destroy the legacy of the Chacoan people and other indigenous communities or harm these beautiful public lands. We must do everything possible to defend the greater Chaco area by halting future oil and gas development in the area, and I’m proud to support legislation that will further address the environmental, health, economic, and cultural needs of this region,” said Luján, U.S. House Assistant Speaker.
“It’s important that we protect Chaco Canyon, both because it is a sacred place that should be valued the same way we value other sacred places, but also because public lands must be protected. However, time and again this special place has been put up to be exploited by big oil companies. By introducing these protections we’re going beyond protecting a beautiful piece of New Mexico, we’re recognizing the significance Chaco holds for the Native American community and to all New Mexicans. By keeping Chaco from being destroyed by the fossil fuel industry, future generations will have access to this special place,” said Haaland, the Chair of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.
Udall, Heinrich, Luján, and Haaland held a press conference call today with Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, All Pueblo Council of Governors Vice Chairman J. Michael Chavarria and New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard to announce the introduction of the bill. Audio of the call can be found HERE.
The Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act would withdraw minerals owned by the U.S. government from future leasing and development that are located within the Proposed Chaco Protection Zone – which surrounds the Chaco Culture National Historical Park – protecting the remaining Chaco ruins and landscape nearest the park. The bill withdraws 316,076 acres of minerals from the 909,000 acres of the Proposed Chaco Protection Zone of oil, natural gas, coal, gold, silver and other minerals owned by the federal government. This zone represents a roughly 10-mile radius around the park in which BLM had forgone mineral leasing for a number of years during the Obama Administration, but has proposed new leasing during the Trump Administration, making this legislation urgently needed. In respecting Tribal self-determination, only minerals owned by the federal government are subject to withdrawal - excluding minerals in the area that are owned by private, state, and Tribal entities.
The Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act is supported by Navajo Nation, All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG), New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, and Southwest Native Cultures. A list of organizations and individuals offering support for thelegislation is available HERE.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said, "As Native Americans, we are connected to the land and it is important to preserve sacred places. This is not only a Navajo teaching but an acknowledgment of a way of life for all indigenous peoples. The Nez-Lizer Administration stands firmly with the All Pueblo Council of Governors in protecting Chaco Canyon. We thank Senator Udall for continuing to be a champion for Indian Country through his sponsorship of the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act.”
All Pueblo Council of Governors Chairman E. Paul Torres said, “Thank you Senator Udall and Senator Heinrich, for your leadership, and your unceasing commitment to support the efforts of our tribal nations in the preservation of the Greater Chaco Region. This land is a part of our histories as tribal nations, and holds life-affirming resources that many of our Pueblos still remember and use, as a vital part of our present identity through story, song, prayer, and pilgrimage. This landscape is a part of our past, present, and our future. Once these areas are developed, they are gone forever. We hope the reintroduction of this bill sends a strong message to Washington - that it must be understood that we will do all we can to take these resources our Creator gifted us and hand them to our children and our generations to come. We thank you Senators, the Navajo Nation, and the New Mexico State Land Office for our unified support in this movement to protect Greater Chaco.”
New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard said, “I am excited to join with Senator Tom Udall in ensuring state trust land included in the boundaries are off-limits to future oil and gas exploration. Protection of the Greater Chaco Heritage Area is critical and an important first step in respecting our tribes’ and state’s rich, cultural history.”
Mark Allison, Executive Director, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, said: “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. This bill represents a major step forward toward permanently protecting the area’s rich cultural heritage, world-class archaeological resources and sensitive natural landscape. We are proud to stand in solidarity with the All Pueblo Council of Governors and the Navajo Nation supporting this legislation. New Mexico’s entire federal delegation acting in concert sends an unmistakable message that this serious threat requires a serious response.”
Camilla Feibelman, Director of the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter said: "We must protect sacred sites, communities and cultures, and our wild and special places, which is why the Greater Chaco region must be protected from expanded fracking. We applaud Senators Udall and Heinrich and Representatives Luján and Haaland for their efforts to ensure that the Greater Chaco region and the people who live there are safeguarded from the Trump administration's attempts to sell it off to the fossil fuel industry."