People have an extra month to weigh in on Chaco Canyon drilling ban

Bureau of Land Management extends its deadline through May 6 for comment and two public meetings

By: - March 30, 2022 4:36 am

Chaco National Historic Park (Photo from the National Park Service)

The public will have another month to give the Bureau of Land Management input on the proposal that would ban mineral extraction for more than 351,000 acres around Chaco Canyon National Historical Park.

Last week federal officials said the public comment period would extend to May 6, 2022. The extension also allows for the federal government to host two in-person meetings for people to weigh in on the change. 

Straddling the divide between environmental action and energy revenue

The two listening sessions scheduled the last week of April are in Farmington and Albuquerque They require registration for people to attend and speak.

Bureau of Land Management officials said the meetings will be capped at 45 individuals, and a person can attend only one session. Each session will have Navajo-language translators available for participants, they said.

In November, the Biden administration initiated the process that, if approved, would issue a 20-year ban of new federal oil and gas leasing within a 10-mile radius around Chaco Canyon.

The move was celebrated by a coalition of Pueblo, Hopi and Navajo leaders who have fought for decades to end oil and gas operations around Chaco Canyon. 

Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland said the proposal protects “the living landscape that is Chaco, so that we can pass on this rich cultural legacy to future generations.”

The federal effort follows a similar action by New Mexico in 2019 that withdrew state land in the area for future mineral, oil and gas leasing.

Many Navajo people support the proposal, including Navajo Nation Council Delegate Daniel Tso. ‘“For too many years, the Navajo Nation has been assaulted by waves of resource exploitation and legacies of sacrifice zones,” he said when the proposal was announced.

However, a large force in opposition are Navajo Nations citizens that are allotted land and mineral rights under treaties with the U.S. government in the area around Chaco Canyon. 

According to the BLM, Navajo allottees own 210,000 acres of the 4.1 million acres that make up the Chaco Canyon Historical Park. 

The federal government distributed more than $96 million in royalties from mineral extraction around Chaco Canyon in 2015, Delora Hesuse, one of 20,835 Navajo allottees, testified in Congress four years later.

Indigenous leaders in New Mexico celebrate federal efforts to protect Chaco

Other allottees have shared concerns about how the ban on oil production in Chaco will affect their livelihood.

Alice Benally told the Navajo Times last week that banning extraction there protects the “dilapidated ruins of the Anasazi who have long been annihilated” and that the move sends the message that Diné allottees “do not matter.”

Haaland is from Laguna Pueblo and has support from leaders in other Pueblo communities across New Mexico that maintain cultural ties to Chaco Canyon.

Acoma Pueblo Gov. Brian Vallo said Chaco is significant to the cultural identity of Pueblos and other tribes that descend from the area.

“When our ancestors left Chaco Canyon, their departure was not an abandonment but a purposeful part of their journey foretold to them,” Vallo said after the announcement in November. “The cultural resources — evidenced by the structures, kivas, pottery, petroglyphs, and shrines — were purposefully placed and left there in the Greater Chaco Region and are the footprints of our ancestors.”

How to weigh in

The Bureau of Land Management will host two in-person public meetings on the proposal to expand the ban of mineral extraction around Chaco Canyon. ​​There will be limited capacity, and registration is required. Contact Sarah Scott at 505-564-7689 or [email protected] to register.

  • FARMINGTON: Wednesday, April 27, 2022, from  2-7 p.m. at San Juan College Henderson Fine Arts Center 
  • ALBUQUERQUE: Friday, April 29, 2022, from 8 a.m.-noon at the National Indian Programs Training Center 

In addition to the meetings, written comments may be submitted by the May 6 deadline::   

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Most recently he covered Indigenous affairs with New Mexico In Depth. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.