WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, at a House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands hearing chaired by Congresswoman Deb Haaland, the Department of Interior changed its position on the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act (H.R. 2181). At the hearing, the subcommittee heard from public lands managers, tribal leaders, and scientists on the significance of protecting sites surrounding the Chaco Cultural National Historical Park. The Natural Resources Committee is expected to vote on the bill later this month.The Department of Interior updated its congressional testimony, stating that it has “no objection” to the bill aimed at protecting the Chaco area from further mineral development within a 10-mile radius around the site.
“Our bill to protect Chaco is one step further toward becoming a reality,” said Congresswoman Deb Haaland, Vice Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee. “When folks see Chaco Canyon and hear from our people about its importance, they truly understand its significance. I’m pleased the Interior Department realized that protecting the ancient homeland of the Pueblo people and a place that all New Mexicans treasure is the right thing to do for our communities.”
In April, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján and Deb Haalandintroduced the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act. The bill would withdraw minerals owned by the U.S. government from future leasing and development that are located within the Proposed Chaco Protection Zone – which surrounds the Chaco Culture National Historical Park – protecting the remaining Chaco ruins and landscape nearest the park.
The bill withdraws 316,076 acres of minerals from the 909,000 acres of the Proposed Chaco Protection Zone of oil, natural gas, coal, gold, silver and other minerals owned by the federal government. This zone represents a roughly 10-mile radius around the park in which BLM had forgone mineral leasing for a number of years during the Obama Administration, but has seen proposed new leasing during the Trump Administration, making this legislation urgently needed. In respecting Tribal self-determination, only minerals owned by the federal government are subject to withdrawal – excluding minerals in the areas that are owned by private, state, and Tribal entities.
At the end of April, Congresswoman Haaland co-led a field hearing and events focused on oil and gas development impacts on air quality, public health and sacred sites near Chaco Canyon. The committee held roundtable, traveled to a site to view methane emissions, toured Chaco Culture National Historical Park, and held a Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources field hearing. Shortly after the field hearing, New Mexico Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard signed an executive order placing a moratorium on new oil and gas development on state trust land in a buffer zone around Chaco Canyon.
The full text of the bill can be found HERE. More information on the bill can be found HERE. A map of the proposed Chaco Protection Zone can be found HERE.
During the subcommittee hearing, members also heard testimony about the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act which would make permanent the current 20-year moratorium on new claims on approximately 1 million acres north and south of Grand Canyon National Park.