Department of Interior announces protection of more than 351,000 acres of Chaco Canyon

This action is an effort to "protect the Chaco Canyon and the greater connected landscape, and to ensure that public land management better reflects the sacred sites, stories, and cultural resources in the region."

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The U.S. Department of the Interior’s proposal to protect Chaco Canyon will bar new federal oil and gas leasing. The proposal withdraws approximately 351,000 acres of public lands around Chaco Culture National Historical Park located in New Mexico.

This action is an effort to “protect the Chaco Canyon and the greater connected landscape, and to ensure that public land management better reflects the sacred sites, stories, and cultural resources in the region,” according to the Department of the Interior. The proposal will ban new oil and gas development for 20 years.

“This 20-year ban on oil and gas development is a good first step toward safeguarding this living landscape,” Virginia Carter, public lands campaign associate at Environment America, said. “However, it’s not the finish line. Congress must pass a comprehensive bill protecting the greater Chaco landscape. There should be no oil and gas excavation—new or old—in or near this special place.”

Chaco Canyon is home to elk, bobcats, badgers, bats and lizards. The ruins and red rock formations that surround the national park is a designated “dark sky site” where the Milky Way is visible in the night sky.

The withdrawal of federal lands within a 10-mile radius around Chaco Culture National Historical Park “would not affect existing valid leases or rights and would not apply to minerals owned by private, state, or Tribal entities,” according to the Department of the Interior.

“The Greater Chaco landscape is an incredible window into our past, but we risk ruining this special place if protections aren’t established,” Carter said. “Already, more than 90% of the Greater Chaco landscape is currently lost to oil and gas drilling, which contaminates the air and water with dangerous chemicals.”

After years of “efforts by Pueblos and Tribes, local communities, advocates, and elected officials to protect the greater Chaco Canyon area,” the new proposal is said to “honor sensitive areas important to Tribes and communities, and build collaborative management frameworks toward a sustainable economic future for the region.”

The Department of the Interior opened a 90-day public comment period for the withdrawal application and the public is encouraged to register and participate in one of the upcoming public meetings.

“We hope Americans log on to their computers and rush to the post office to submit their public comments in favor of protecting what small portion of this wild space remains outside the clutches of the fossil fuel industry,” Carter said.

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