In February 2017, the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks submitted comments – along with Tribes and several conservation organizations – to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in opposition to mineral leasing proposed on approximately 4.2 million acres of land in San Juan, Rio Arriba, McKinley and Sandoval Counties in New Mexico (NM). This area also included approximately 1.9 million acres of Tribal land, 1.3 million acres of BLM-managed land, across 17 Navajo Nation chapters, individual Indian allotments and numerous Chapter House residents.
Within this planning area were also units of the National Park Service (NPS), including Chaco Culture National Historic Park (NHP) and Aztec Ruins National Monument (NM). In fact, a primary area of interest for oil and gas development (fracking) was in the southern portion of the project area near Chaco Culture NHP, also a World Heritage Site. The Coalition’s comments expressed concern about a number of potential adverse cultural and natural resource impacts to the Chaco Culture NHP from possible oil and gas development. The Coalition’s comments can be found here: https://protectnps.org/2018/03/05/success-story-blm-defers-oil-and-gas-lease-sale-near-chaco-culture-nhp/
The Coalition is pleased that Interior Secretary David Barnhardt, who visited Chaco Culture NHP in late May 2019 along with U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich and Tribal Leaders, has directed BLM to change course and defer leases within 10 miles of the park over the next year while regulators prepare a new management plan for the region’s resources. Additionally, Bernhardt has directed BLM to not object to legislation (S. 1079) introduced in April 2019 by U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján, Deb Haaland, and Xochitl Torres Small to withdraw the federal lands around Chaco Canyon NHP from further mineral development. These actions follow an initial BLM deferral of oil and gas leases in March 2018 by the BLM Farmington NM Field Office to allow time to evaluate more than 5,000 cultural sites overlooked in the initial 2017 study.