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New Mexico delegates renew push for broader protection at Chaco National Park

Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation are again pushing to make permanent a stop on oil and gas development outside the boundaries of Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

The Democrats reintroduced legislation Tuesday that would formalize a 10-mile buffer around the park that would span more than 490 square miles of federal land.

It’s the latest attempt to protect what environmentalists and Native American tribes consider the greater Chaco region, an expansive stretch of northwestern New Mexico that includes locations that are culturally significant to New Mexico pueblos and other tribes.

A moratorium on new leasing and mineral development on federal land remains in effect as the U.S. Interior Department considers a 20-year withdrawal that would prohibit drilling and other activities across. 

U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández said visiting the national park and the area that surrounds it provides a better understand of “who we are and where we came from.”

NATIVE AMERICAN TRIBE CONDEMNS BIDEN ADMIN EFFORT TO BAN OIL, GAS LEASING ON LANDS

“This sacred area educates, inspires and compels us to reflect on the importance of both our shared history and the communities we love today,” she said in a statement.

Pueblos in New Mexico have been working on an extensive ethnographic study of the region in hopes of better informing federal land managers of the cultural resources that dot the landscape. While the work is still under way, tribal leaders are hopeful that the federal government — particularly the Interior Department — is moving toward planning that incorporates traditional knowledge.

Chaco Protection Bill

A hiker sits on a ledge above Pueblo Bonito, the largest archeological site at the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, in northwestern New Mexico, on Aug. 28, 2021.

Mark Mitchell, chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors and former governor of Tesuque Pueblo, said the Chaco area represents an ancestral footprint and the foundation of core values that pueblo communities still strive to uphold today.

The legislation is a means to safeguard Indigenous histories, Mitchell and other pueblo governors said in a statement.

“When development damages this interconnected landscape, the harm can never be undone,” said J. Michael Chavarria, governor of Santa Clara Pueblo.

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The Navajo Nation also completed its own study last year and has been advocating for a smaller area to be set aside given the economic impacts a withdrawal would have on the tribe and individual Navajo landowners whose allotments would be landlocked as a result.

Advocates point to a federal assessment done last year that found less than a dozen Navajo allottee owners would be highly impacted, but a Navajo Nation Council committee made up of all 24 tribal lawmakers in April adopted a resolution rejecting the proposed buffer and opposing the federal legislation.

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