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Bureau of Land Management Takes Next Steps to Protect Chaco Canyon

Begins two-year segregation of federal lands while conducting environmental analysis, seeking public comment

WASHINGTON – The Bureau of Land Management today formally proposed to withdraw approximately 351,000 acres of public lands surrounding Chaco Canyon National Historical Park. This action, published today in the Federal Register, follows President Biden’s announcement on November 15 of the Department’s new efforts to protect the Chaco Canyon and the greater connected landscape and to ensure that public land management better reflects the sacred sites, stories, and cultural resources in the region.

The proposed withdrawal of federal lands within a 10-mile radius around Chaco Culture National Historical Park would bar new federal oil and gas leasing on those lands. The two-year segregation and potential withdrawal would not affect existing valid leases or rights and would not apply to minerals owned by private, state, or Tribal entities.

In additional to today’s proposed withdrawal, the BLM is initiating a 90-day public comment period and will be hosting several public meetings as well as undertaking formal Tribal consultation. The public may submit comments on the proposed withdrawal until April 6, 2022. Comments may be submitted through ePlanning at: https://eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/2016892/510 or sent through the mail to: Bureau of Land Management, Farmington Field Office, Attn: Sarah Scott, 6251 College Blvd., Suite A, Farmington, NM 87402.

In early 2022 the BLM and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) will also be initiating a broader assessment of the Greater Chaco cultural landscape to explore ways the Interior Department can manage existing energy development, honor sensitive areas important to Tribes and communities, and build collaborative management frameworks toward a sustainable economic future for the region.

Today’s action builds on years of efforts by Pueblos and Tribes, local communities, advocates, and elected officials to protect the greater Chaco Canyon area. Most recently, Congress instituted a one-year pause on new federal oil and gas leasing within a 10-mile radius of the park, as well as appropriated funding for ethnographic studies in the surrounding region. The withdrawal process under consideration will be informed by the ongoing ethnographic studies. This effort also complements the existing joint BLM-BIA effort to update land management plans in the area.

Chaco Canyon is unique and is one of the world’s most culturally significant landscapes. Located in the high desert of northwest New Mexico, this valley served as the center of the Chacoan culture for a roughly 400-year span, from 850 – 1250. Today, some of Chaco Canyon is protected as Chaco Culture National Historical Park, which honors the buildings and structures, landscape of mountains, mesas, and sacred places that have deep spiritual meaning to this day. The park and related areas were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, one of only two dozen sites in the United States.

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