WHAT IS CHACO?
Chaco Culture National Historic Park preserves a major prehistoric center of ceremony and trade in the San Juan Basin just south of Farmington, New Mexico. Natural beauty and cultural significance meet in this area of northwestern New Mexico where ruins, artifacts, and other archeological sites radiate from Chaco Canyon’s cultural epicenter. The extensive and well-preserved cultural history found here earned designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
The Greater Chaco Landscape
The Greater Chaco Region radiates from the main park at its center, expanding across the Four Corners Region and the San Juan Basin with ties to other well-known cultural sites such as Mesa Verde, Canyon of the Ancients, Bears Ears, Hovenweep and Aztec Ruins. Chacoan roads, greathouses, villages, sacred sites and other places of significance are scattered across this larger landscape. Chaco and the Greater Chaco Region continue to retain significance to modern-day indigenous peoples as a connection to their ancestors and history, places of traditional use and sacred sites, and for some their home.
Outside of protected areas, many lands rich with both cultural and natural resources remain threatened by oil and gas development. The impacts of extreme development – primarily on BLM lands in the Greater Chaco Region – are evident in extreme habitat fragmentation, gas flares, industrial infrastructure and industrial traffic. A methane “hot spot” has been identified over the Four Corners region with most of the methane emissions attributed to oil and gas development. Nearby communities – mostly native – have reported elevated levels of air quality-related health issues and contamination of water sources from fracking operations.
Making sure remaining undeveloped lands are managed to protect the sensitive natural and cultural landscapes of Greater Chaco and the people who live here is an integral component of maintaining Chaco’s legacy.
The Threat of Oil and Gas Development
Despite Chaco’s rich cultural ties to past and present, its awesome archeological resources and its sensitive natural landscapes, development in the San Juan Basin continues to threaten special cultural and natural areas both within and outside of Chaco Culture National Historic Park. Technological advances in extractive industry, such as fracking, enable industry to viably expand development to lands that were previously not cost-effective to tap. Some of these lands surround Chaco or its outliers while others help create a connective corridor spanning from the Park to the Ah-shi-sle-pah Wilderness Study Area (WSA) and Bisti/De-na-zin Wilderness.
Oil and gas development on state and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands near the park have already impacted the Greater Chaco Landscape. Infrastructure such as roads, powerlines, pipelines, pump jacks, tanks, generators, and processing plants fragment wildlife habitat and impact the cultural landscape while flaring of oil and gas wells results in air pollution and impacts the dark night skies Chaco and Four Corners region currently boast. Intense land fragmentation from industrial development has left few areas of BLM lands roadless while health issues associated with pollution are on the rise in nearby native communities.
Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act of 2019
New Mexico's entire Congressional delegation - Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich; Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Lujan; and Congresswomen Deb Haaland and Xochitl Torres Small - are co-sponsoring the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act of 2019, which would permanently prohibit oil and gas leasing within ten miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives in late 2019 and now awaits action in the U.S. Senate.
In May 2019, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt visited Chaco on the urging of Senator Heinrich. The visit resulted in Secretary Bernhardt placing a one-year moratorium on oil and gas lease sales in the ten-mile buffer zone around the national park. Shorty thereafter, Senator Udall and Assistant Speaker Lujan introduced amendments to codify the one-year moratorium in Senate and House appropriations bills, respectively. New Mexico Wild continues to work closely with the Congressional delegation to push the Chaco protection bill through the legislative process.
Bureau of Land Management
While much of the land in the Greater Chaco Region is tribal, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) also administers millions of acres here through the Farmington BLM Field Office. Decisions made on the BLM lands surrounding Chaco have a direct impact on the park as well as on the natural and cultural features of the Greater Chaco landscape and the many native communities in this region.
On February 28, BLM's Farmington Field Office released a draft Resource Management Plan Amendment (RMPA) that in large part could spell disaster for the greater Chaco region. Some of the plan's alternatives failed to include any protections for the buffer zone surrounding Chaco. We are asking for your help to encourage BLM to choose the plan that most adequately protects the greater Chaco region and upholds the promise made by Secretary Bernhardt.