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A sacred trust: We must stand united for Chaco landscape’s protection

Fajada Butte, situated just south of the visitor’s center at Chaco Canyon. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Last month, the Navajo Nation and the All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG) came together for a historic summit to declare our shared commitment to the Greater Chaco Landscape and to call on our congressional leaders and the Department of the Interior to conserve these sacred lands for future generations. We were joined by many other elected leaders from New Mexico who stand with us in this critical endeavor.

The Greater Chaco Landscape is a truly significant resource that brings together the Pueblos of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation. Including this summit, the Navajo Nation and APCG have only met three times, with each meeting focusing on the importance of protecting the abundance of cultural and historical resources.

New Mexicans and people from all around the world visit the region in large numbers every year to view historical sites and gaze at the breathtaking starry skies that hover above these lands at night. It captures the imagination like no other place on Earth.

Navajo and Pueblo leaders, along with members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, our governor and our state land commissioner have repeatedly sent a strong and unified message to the Department of the Interior and the BLM: Protect public lands near Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Whether the agency chooses to respect our tribal and state leaders’ request will be seen as the BLM readies the release of a draft management plan amendment for the area. In recent months, the agency suggested it would ignore this unprecedented level of support for land conservation by allowing lands within a roughly 10-mile buffer of the park to be developed for oil and gas. More than 90 percent of our public lands in the region are already leased for energy development, and the few remaining unleased areas near the park form a near pristine landscape of cultural objects and sacred sites.

While the BLM works on its management plan, we seek alternative ways to protect the Greater Chaco Landscape. Last year, we supported legislation sponsored by U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich that would withdraw lands around Chaco National Park from oil and gas leasing. Last month, our nations renewed our support for this bill and called on New Mexico’s federal elected leaders to reintroduce it, along with a similar companion bill in the House of Representatives. This important legislation would provide long-term assurances for this critically important landscape, but it should not act in lieu of BLM’s responsibility to listen to our communities and protect these lands through the administrative process. Either through the legislative or administrative process, our nations are committed to seeing through the widely supported plan to protect the Greater Chaco Landscape. We hope Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and lawmakers in Washington, D.C., will respect our reasonable request.

Now is the time for all of us who treasure this landscape to come together. Please join us in our efforts to demand that the BLM do more to protect the lands near Chaco.

If we continue working together, we can permanently protect the Greater Chaco region.

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