Public Comment Period: Protect World Heritage around Greater Chaco!
Chaco Canyon and its surrounding landscape in northwest New Mexico hold remarkable examples of ancestral Pueblo ceremonial buildings, distinctive great houses, and an elaborate network of prehistoric roads. Yet this incredible landscape—designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and included on the National Trust’s annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2011—is increasingly threatened by encroaching oil and gas development.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) stewards most of the public lands in the Greater Chaco landscape that are not already protected by the National Park Service. Right now, the agency is making long-term plans to update how these lands will be managed.
One option under consideration would prevent oil and gas drilling within a roughly 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, which the National Trust supports. Unfortunately, the BLM’s preferred approach would allow significant new oil and gas leasing throughout this area which would endanger this cultural landscape.
Public input is critical to the land management planning, and the BLM is accepting comments on the draft plan now through September 25.
The text below provides some suggested comments. Please modify and individualize your comments to enhance their effectiveness.
Comment Title: Preserve Chacoan and cultural landscapes
Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the draft Mancos-Gallup Resource Management Plan Amendment and Environmental Impact Statement. As a supporter of our public lands and cultural landscapes, I believe it is important that the BLM prioritize protection of cultural and historic resources in the Greater Chaco landscape.
Of the alternatives presented in the draft, I strongly urge the BLM to select Alternative B1, which would preserve Chacoan and cultural landscapes. This alternative prioritizes preservation of cultural and paleontological properties and is the most appropriate management approach for this unique landscape and its irreplaceable cultural resources. Protecting the Greater Chaco cultural landscape has broad support, including among cultural resources experts, archaeologists, and tribes with ancestral ties to the area.
Continuing the longstanding practice of avoiding leasing in the 10-mile radius surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park, as Alternative B1 would do, is generally consistent with the bipartisan Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act (H.R. 2181/S. 1079), which the House of Representatives approved by a vote of 245 – 174 on October 30, 2019. That legislation has the support of the entire New Mexico congressional delegation.
Encroaching oil and gas development already threaten the integrity of this cultural landscape and its resources. BLM’s preferred alternative provides insufficient protections for cultural resources and would allow extensive new oil and gas development on federal lands within 10 miles of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
BLM’s preferred plan also relies heavily on “no-surface occupancy” (NSO) stipulations to claim that Chaco is protected – but the exceptions to those NSO stipulations could render them meaningless. Since much of the land in the Greater Chaco area is in checkerboard ownership, the NSO stipulations simply require the drilling infrastructure to be built on an adjacent non-federal parcel, which could still have an adverse impact on cultural resources, and then drilling at an angle to access the oil and gas underneath the BLM lands.
The BLM also specifically requests comment on whether a smaller 5-mile Federal buffer surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park should be considered in addition to the alternatives presented. BLM should not consider this reduced buffer because of the significant number of culturally important properties located between 5-10 miles from Chaco Culture National Historical Park and because this area is being targeted by the oil and gas industry for intensive development.
Again, I urge the BLM to select Alternative B1 to preserve Chacoan and cultural landscapes within the planning area.
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