WASHINGTON, D.C. – During the Biden-Harris administration’s first White House Tribal Nations Summit taking place today, President Biden will announce that the Department of the Interior is taking steps to protect the Chaco Canyon and the greater connected landscape with a rich tribal and cultural legacy in northwest New Mexico.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will initiate consideration of a 20-year withdrawal of federal lands within a 10-mile radius around Chaco Culture National Historical Park, which would bar new federal oil and gas leasing on those lands.
“Chaco Canyon is a sacred place that holds deep meaning for the Indigenous peoples whose ancestors lived, worked, and thrived in that high desert community,” said Secretary Deb Haaland. “Now is the time to consider more enduring protections for the living landscape that is Chaco, so that we can pass on this rich cultural legacy to future generations. I value and appreciate the many tribal leaders, elected officials, and stakeholders who have persisted in their work to conserve this special area.”
In the coming weeks, the BLM intends to publish a notice in the Federal Register that will commence a two-year segregation of the federal lands while the bureau conducts an environmental analysis and seeks public comment on the proposed administrative withdrawal. BLM will also initiate formal tribal consultation. The 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.
Secretary Haaland also directed the Interior Department to undertake a broader assessment of the Greater Chaco cultural landscape to ensure that public land management better reflects the sacred sites, stories, and cultural resources in the region. Beginning in early 2022, the BLM and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) will co-lead discussions with tribes, communities, elected officials, and interested parties to explore ways the Interior Department can manage existing energy development, honor sensitive areas important to tribes, and build collaborative management frameworks toward a sustainable economic future for the region.
“Today’s announcement has been years in the making,” said BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning. “We look forward to kicking off a broader regional conversation with the many people who care deeply about the Greater Chaco landscape on how we can best manage the cultural and natural values unique to this special place.”
“This important step shows the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to protecting sacred places for Indigenous people and is a great example of how tribally-led conservation can advance the nation’s goal of addressing climate change,” said Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland. In July, Assistant Secretary Newland toured the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, and met with the All Pueblo Council of Governors, Chaco Tribal Heritage Association, Tribal leaders from the Navajo Nation, and individual Navajo allottees regarding land use in the Chaco Canyon region.
The announcement builds on years of efforts by the 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 one of the world’s most culturally significant landscapes. Located in the high desert of northwest New Mexico, the 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 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 U.S.