VIDEO: Udall Calls On Senate To Protect Chaco Canyon Area In Key Committee Hearing

VIDEO: Udall Calls On Senate To Protect Chaco Canyon Area In Key Committee Hearing

Udall also testifies in support of Buffalo Tract Protection Act, supported by Pueblos of Santa Ana and San Felipe and Placitas communities



WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) delivered testimony in support of legislation he introduced in the Senate with Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) to ensure the protection of culturally important areas near Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining hearing is a critical step forward in advancing the bill and permanently protecting this precious landscape.

“Chaco is known around the world as the heart of a culture that inhabited the Four Corners area for hundreds of years,” Udall said. “The starkly beautiful land and mountains within the area, and the cultural sites and artifacts that pepper the landscape, are sacred to many Pueblos and Tribes in the Four Corners area.”

“Chaco has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987, only one of 23 such sites in our nation.  This culture represents one of our nation’s greatest pre-Colombian civilizations. But the park covers only a fraction of the archeologically and culturally significant sites and artifacts.  Protection of the area surrounding the National Park is imperative,” Udall said. “This area is at real and continued risk.  Over the last three years, the Bureau of Land Management has proposed new oil and gas leasing in the Greater Chaco Canyon Landscape area.”  

“This sacred area, home to critically important archeological sites and objects, should not be under constant threat.  Indeed, the Tenth Circuit recently concluded that the Department had not adequately evaluated impacts from leases both within and outside this 10-mile buffer. The time to act is now,” Udall said. “This bill is important to my state, our Pueblos and Tribes, our nation, and to future generations.  I look forward to the Subcommittee moving this bill out of committee as quickly as possible so we protect this special area for generations to come.”

The Chaco Cultural Heritage Protection Act of 2019, S. 1079, would prevent any future leasing or development of minerals owned by the U.S. government on lands within an approximately 10-mile protected radius around Chaco, which includes many sites that are sacred and culturally important to the Pueblos and Navajo Nation. The legislation is supported by Navajo Nation, All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG), New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, and Southwest Native Cultures, and many other organizations.

Udall also testified in support of S. 526, Buffalo Tract Protection Act, sponsored by Heinrich, which permanently withdraws four tracts of land from gravel mining and all other mineral development. The Town of Bernalillo, Santa Ana Pueblo, San Felipe Pueblo, Las Placitas Association, Ranchos de Placitas Property Owners Association, and La Mesa Homeowners Association all support this legislation.

“I also fully support the Buffalo Tract Protection Act, S. 526, and hope it can also be reported favorably as quickly as possible. This legislation would withdraw four parcels of BLM lands, including the Buffalo Tract and the Crest of Montezuma, from mineral development,” Udall said. “The bill would also maintain BLM’s authority over the surface rights to the parcels.  And if the surface rights are transferred, the mineral rights will remain under federal management and will remain withdrawn.”

The full text of Udall’s floor speech as prepared for delivery is available below. Watch the video HERE.

Chairman Lee, Ranking Member Wyden, members of the Subcommittee — thank you for the opportunity to speak in favor of the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act and the Buffalo Tract Protection Act, both introduced by me and Senator Heinrich. 

The Chaco Protection Act would withdraw federal lands from future minerals development within an approximate 10-mile radius of the boundaries of the Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico.

The entire New Mexico delegation supports this legislation, with a companion bill introduced in the House of Representatives…by Representatives Lujan, Haaland, and Torres Small. 

Let me first briefly explain why the Chaco Canyon area is so special.

Chaco is known around the world as the heart of a culture that inhabited the Four Corners area for hundreds of years. 

The Chacoan people reached astounding architectural, cultural, and economic heights for 300 years — between 850 and 1150 A.D. 

They were master builders and engineers — constructing over 150 great houses, with hundreds of rooms and kivas, throughout the region.  A network of roads spread in all directions and trade relations extended into southern Mexico.  More than 3,500 archeological sites have yielded over 1.5 million artifacts.  The remains of sites stand today – and they are magnificent.  

The starkly beautiful land and mountains within the area, and the cultural sites and artifacts that pepper the landscape, are sacred to many Pueblos and Tribes in the Four Corners area.  These Tribal nations’ deep roots to the Chacoan people live on in their communities across the Southwest. 

Chaco has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987, only one of 23 such sites in our nation.  This culture represents one of our nation’s greatest pre-Colombian civilizations.

But the park covers only a fraction of the archeologically and culturally significant sites and artifacts.  Protection of the area surrounding the National Park is imperative.

This area is at real and continued risk.  Over the last three years, the Bureau of Land Management has proposed new oil and gas leasing in the Greater Chaco Canyon Landscape area.  

Each time, BLM has withdrawn the proposals as a result of overwhelming protest from the public and pressure from elected officials like Senator Heinrich and myself. 

This sacred area, home to critically important archeological sites and objects, should not be under constant threat.  Indeed, the Tenth Circuit recently concluded that the Department had not adequately evaluated impacts from leases both within and outside this 10-mile buffer. The time to act is now.

Our bill grew from a groundswell of community-based work over a number of years. 

Residents in tribal and surrounding communities sought greater input into BLM decisions on development in and around the area.  And Pueblos and Tribes wanted the meaningful government-to-government consultation the federal government is obligated to conduct.

We have worked very closely with the All Pueblo Council of Governors, the Navajo Nation, community members, and others to craft a bill that balances cultural protection and existing rights, including those of tribal allottees.

This legislation would withdraw only minerals owned by the U.S. government within approximately 333,000 acres.  I also want to be clear: this bill would not affect existing federal leases or minerals owned by private individuals, the State of New Mexico, or Tribes. 

Importantly, the New Mexico State Land Commissioner has issued an executive order placing a moratorium on new mineral development on approximately 72,000 acres of state trust lands within an approximate 10-mile radius of the National Park.  The State of New Mexico is aligned with our legislation.  Other private parties and Tribes will be able to make those decisions for themselves. 

This bill is important to my state, our Pueblos and Tribes, our nation, and to future generations.  I look forward to the Subcommittee moving this bill out of committee as quickly as possible so we protect this special area for generations to come. 

I also fully support the Buffalo Tract Protection Act, S. 526, and hope it can also be reported favorably as quickly as possible. This legislation would withdraw four parcels of BLM lands, including the Buffalo Tract and the Crest of Montezuma, from mineral development.

The bill would also maintain BLM’s authority over the surface rights to the parcels.  And if the surface rights are transferred, the mineral rights will remain under federal management and will remain withdrawn. 

Like our Chaco legislation, this bill is supported by an array of community members and Tribes, including the Town of Bernalillo, Santa Ana Pueblo, San Felipe Pueblo, Las Placitas Association, Ranchos de Placitas Property Owners Association, and La Mesa Homeowners Association.

Thank you for considering my views on these important conservation measures.

 

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