BLM takes steps to protect New Mexico's Chaco Canyon from drilling, but more needs to be done!

Archaeological site in Chaco Culture National Historic Park, New Mexico

Photo: John Fowler, flickr.

The Bureau of Land Management took another crucial step forward June 6 in protecting the region around Chaco Culture National Historic Park from oil and gas drilling.

More than 2,000 acres in the region around the renowned Chaco Canyon area will no longer be available for oil and gas leasing auctions. 

The acres were originally planned to be auctioned off in October, but the BLM postponed them because they hadn't completed the sufficient environmental analysis and consultation with affected tribes. This news follows previous postponements in the past few years in the area around Chaco Canyon following protests by environmental groups.

Chaco Canyon region renowned for it's archaeological treasures

Chaco Canyon is one of 12 special places that The Wilderness Society has named as simply Too Wild to Drill. The Chaco area is a UNESCO World Heritage site, prized for its archaeological ruins that include an extensive network of ancient houses and ceremonial buildings used by the ancient Pueblo people of the southwest.

Chaco Canyon’s famed desert landscape is remote enough to ensure some of the nation's clearest star-filled skies, but flares and pollution from oil and gas drilling would ruin the clarity of Chaco’s magical stargazing opportunities.

Ancient Native American ruins seen against the night sky. Photo: National Park Service

A need for a smarter approach

In 2013, the BLM took a similar step, recognizing that certain BLM lands around the park should be off-limits to drilling based on their cultural and environmental resources.

But protecting this landscape should not be done piecemeal and reconsidered lease by lease. A master leasing plan for the area around Chaco Canyon could help the Bureau of Land Management carefully assess which areas are too sensitive to drill and ensure any ongoing development is done responsibly. This kind of smart planning would protect Chaco Canyon’s cultural artifacts, including an intricate road system that could still contain undiscovered Native American relics, and visitor experiences at the park and its surrounding areas.

Flaring from shale wells in the San Juan Basin in New Mexico could threaten the region near Chaco Canyon. Photo: Ecoflight, flickr.

The Bureau of Land Management holds lease sales every quarter and, unfortunately, there is not a current long-term plan that considers greater overall environmental impacts. We need a meaningful solution that will protect the invaluable natural cultural resources present in and around Chaco Canyon and throughout this important northwestern New Mexico landscape.

Protecting our wild lands needs to be done holistically. A master leasing plan would help safeguard our natural and cultural heritage in regions like Chaco Canyon, while also giving careful consideration to energy development on public lands.