This year already has seen significant steps toward protecting Chaco Culture National Historical Park, nearby tribal communities and the surrounding ancestral cultural landscape from oil and gas development.
In May, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt committed to a one-year moratorium on new leasing in the 10-mile area surrounding the park. The state of New Mexico followed suit when State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia placed a moratorium on new leases on state lands within that same area.
Despite the hyperpartisanship in Washington, D.C., we have a unique opportunity to move legislation that will help make permanent the federal protections.
On July 17, the House Natural Resources Committee successfully marked up House Resolution 2181, the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act of 2019. The bipartisan bill was introduced by U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján and also has Reps. Xochitl Torres Small and Debra Haaland as original co-sponsors. It would withdraw oil, gas and other mineral resources in the region surrounding the park from future leasing and development. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
Given Udall’s unique role in the Senate and his impending retirement, he may be in the rare position of having leverage to pass this bill despite being in the minority party. And on the House side, we are hoping to see that legislation move to the floor this fall.
We know these bills are widely supported by New Mexicans, and now is the time to go full steam ahead and build the momentum to pass them.
Ernie Atencio is Southwest regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association. Paul Reed is preservation archaeologist at Archaeology Southwest.