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Passage of House Interior spending bill step in right direction for Chaco

For Immediate Release             
 

Passage of House Interior spending bill step in right direction for Chaco

ALBUQUERQUE (June 25, 2019) – New Mexico Wild today is celebrating the passage of a Department of Interior spending bill by the House of Representatives that includes an amendment that would provide protections for the greater Chaco region. The amendment proposed by Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Lujan to the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations package would prohibit Interior from using federal funds to approve mineral development projects in a ten-mile buffer zone around Chaco Culture National Historical Park for the next fiscal year.

“Many Chacoan sites exist outside the Park's official boundaries, so lease sales by BLM in the surrounding area almost always mean the loss of artifacts, history, and sacred sites as well as wildlands, habitat and dark skies.  Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján’s amendment to the House Interior-Environment Appropriations spending bill represents a major step forward toward permanently protecting the area’s rich cultural heritage, world-class archaeological resources and sensitive natural landscape,” said Mark Allison, Executive Director of New Mexico Wild.  “We are grateful for Assistant Speaker Luján’s leadership fighting for a budget that reflects New Mexico values, and to our entire delegation for stepping up to protect Greater chaco.” 

Earlier this year, New Mexico’s entire Congressional delegation introduced the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act of 2019 to permanently remove all federal lands within ten miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park from future oil and gas drilling lease sales.

On May 22, 2018, Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich introduced an initial piece of legislation to protect the area surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which has been subjected to rampant oil and gas development for many decades. The areas immediately surrounding the park are some of the only places in the San Juan Basin that remain relatively undeveloped.

The bill that was introduced this spring is an updated version of the 2018 legislation. If it passes, no additional land managed by the Bureau of Land Management within ten miles of the park and certain significant outlying sites could ever be leased for mineral extraction. In addition, the legislation would permanently withdraw more than 300,000 acres of oil, natural gas, coal and other minerals owned by the U.S. Federal Government. Existing federal mineral leases as well future leases of state, tribal, and allottee minerals would not be impacted by this withdrawal. See map: Proposed Chaco Protection Zone.

Earlier this year, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) removed approximately 1,500 acres of land in the areas adjacent to Chaco Culture National Historical Park from an oil and gas lease sale after immense public outcry from local communities, tribes, and conservation organizations. The BLM made a similar decision in early 2018, temporarily deferring an oil and gas lease sale after facing immense public backlash for initially including parcels of land near Chaco in the sale.

The Chaco protection bill remedies the problem by permanently removing these parcels from the BLM’s consideration. Chaco and its surrounding areas are sacred to both the Navajo Nation and the pueblos of the Southwest. It contains myriad archaeological sites, including entire structures from thousands of years ago. It is still used today for religious ceremonies, and attracts visitors from all over the world, greatly contributing to the local economy.

On March 21, 2019, the Navajo Nation and the All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG) came together for a historic summit to declare their shared commitment to permanently protect the lands in the greater Chaco region. It was only the third meeting of its kind between the two bodies in the more than 400-year history of the APCG, with each meeting focusing on the need to protect Chaco and the surrounding areas.

The Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act of 2019 is supported by Navajo Nation, All Pueblo Council of Governors, New Mexico Wild, the Wilderness Society, and Southwest Native Cultures. A 2018 resolution in support of the original legislation from APCG can be found HERE.

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ABOUT THE NEW MEXICO WILDERNESS ALLIANCE: The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance or “New Mexico Wild” is a non-profit 501 (C)(3), independent, homegrown, grassroots, conservation organization dedicated to the protection, restoration and continued respect of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. With staff and thousands of supporters throughout the state, New Mexico Wild is dedicated to the rights and the value of citizen involvement in protecting increasingly rare wild places within public lands. Just as freedom is every American’s birthright so too is Wilderness.

New Mexico Wild Celebrates Re-Introduction of Chaco Protection Legislation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                       

Contacts:
Mark Allison, New Mexico Wild,
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 505-239-0906
Joey Keefe, New Mexico Wild,
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New Mexico Wild Celebrates Re-Introduction of Chaco Protection Legislation

ALBUQUERQUE (April 9, 2019) – New Mexico Wild today is celebrating the reintroduction of federal legislation aimed at protecting lands in the greater Chaco region. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich have introduced the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act of 2019, while Representatives Ben Ray Lujan, Deb Haaland, and Xochitl Torres Small have introduced a House version of the same legislation.

“Many Chacoan sites exist outside the Park's official boundaries, so lease sales by BLM in the surrounding area almost always mean the loss of artifacts, history, and sacred sites as well as wildlands, habitat and dark skies.  This bill represents a major step forward toward permanently protecting the area’s rich cultural heritage, world-class archaeological resources and sensitive natural landscape. We are proud to stand in solidarity with the All Pueblo Council of Governors and the Navajo Nation supporting this legislation. New Mexico’s entire federal delegation acting in concert sends an unmistakable message that this serious threat requires a serious response,” said Mark Allison, Executive Director of New Mexico Wild.

On May 22, 2018, Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich introduced an initial piece of legislation to protect the area surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which has been subjected to rampant oil and gas development for many decades. The areas immediately surrounding the park are some of the only places in the San Juan Basin that remain relatively undeveloped.

The bill that was introduced today is an updated version of the 2018 legislation. If it passes, no additional land managed by the Bureau of Land Management within ten miles of the park and certain significant outlying sites could ever be leased for mineral extraction. In addition, the legislation would permanently withdraw 325,075 acres of oil, natural gas, coal and other minerals owned by the U.S. Federal Government. Existing federal mineral leases as well future leases of state, tribal, and allottee minerals would not be impacted by this withdrawal. See map: Proposed Chaco Protection Zone.

Earlier this year, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) removed approximately 1,500 acres of land in the areas adjacent to Chaco Culture National Historical Park from an oil and gas lease sale after immense public outcry from local communities, tribes, and conservation organizations. The BLM made a similar decision in early 2018, temporarily deferring an oil and gas lease sale after facing immense public backlash for initially including parcels of land near Chaco in the sale.

The Chaco protection bill remedies the problem by permanently removing these parcels from the BLM’s consideration. Chaco and its surrounding areas are sacred to both the Navajo Nation and the pueblos of the Southwest. It contains myriad archaeological sites, including entire structures from thousands of years ago. It is still used today for religious ceremonies, and attracts visitors from all over the world, greatly contributing to the local economy.

“Despite outcries from local communities, tribes, and conservation organizations, the Bureau of Land Management continues to allow oil and gas companies to lease parcels near sacred sites and the boundary of the park itself,” said Judy Calman, Staff Attorney for New Mexico Wild. “Parcels slated for the March lease sale were deferred, but only after immense public outcry. This Administration seems determined to lease as much public land for mineral extraction as it can, which is why we are very encouraged our Congressional leaders are taking action.”

On March 21, 2019, the Navajo Nation and the All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG) came together for a historic summit to declare their shared commitment to permanently protect the lands in the greater Chaco region. It was only the third meeting of its kind between the two bodies in the more than 400-year history of the APCG, with each meeting focusing on the need to protect Chaco and the surrounding areas.

The Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act of 2019 is supported by Navajo Nation, All Pueblo Council of Governors, New Mexico Wild, the Wilderness Society, and Southwest Native Cultures. A 2018 resolution in support of the original legislation from APCG can be found HERE.

Quotes from tribal leaders and members of New Mexico’s Congressional Delegation:

“For our people, the Greater Chaco landscape is considered a living cultural site. Our spiritual leaders continue to make pilgrimages to this pristine landscape and our communities consider these sites to be ‘the footprints of our ancestors’. Despite its sacred importance, Chaco is constantly threatened by a growing network of roads, oil pads and derricks. But by working with our fellow tribal nations, the state of New Mexico and our federal delegation we have the chance to protect Chaco once and for all. We recognize the great contributions Senator Udall, Senator Heinrich, Congressman Lujan, Congresswoman Haaland and Congresswoman Torres-Small have made to preserving our ancestral homeland with these two bills and call on others to take up this cause. We must protect Chaco, and together we will.”

- E. Paul Torres, Chairman, All Pueblo Council of Governors

“For a millennia our people have maintained a strong connection to Chaco, Mesa Verde, Bears Ears and other cultural sites in the southwest. In the Greater Chaco region we are able to connect to our history, our ancestors, and also to our future as Pueblo people. The collective wisdom of generations continues to be passed down in our tribal communities through language and culture. The wisdom and teachings of our predecessors hold that we must be caretakers and of these sacred places and the entire natural world. We are proud to continue the traditions of our ancestors by protecting Chaco and look forward to the day when these vital cultural resources are permanently protected. These two pieces of legislation are a strong first step towards conserving the historic, cultural landscape we call home.”

- Brian Vallo, Governor, Pueblo of Acoma

"The greater Chaco region is a New Mexico treasure. Many Tribes and Pueblos in Northern New Mexico can trace their ancestry and culture to Chaco, and consider these sites sacred. But even as archeologists are making exciting new discoveries about this region – and even as Tribes and the American public speak out in overwhelming support of protecting this precious landscape – Chaco is being threatened by expanding energy development, including recently proposed leasing inside this long-standing buffer zone. I am proud of my work with New Mexico’s Pueblos and the Navajo Nation to craft this bill to provide a fundamental baseline of protection for this sacred, archaeological wonder. This legislation honors New Mexico’s history and culture, recognizing that some places are just too special to lose.”

- Senator Tom Udall

“The Chaco region holds deep meaning to New Mexico's Pueblos, whose history and traditional knowledge live on in its thousands of ancestral sites, and to the Navajo Nation, whose lands and communities surround Chaco Culture National Historical Park. I’m proud to introduce legislation to protect the landscape nearest to the existing Park from federal mineral development. While we plan for any future energy development in the San Juan Basin, protecting these sites is something we should all be able to agree on. This is about listening to tribal leaders and all of the New Mexicans who are calling on us to preserve the integrity of Chaco’s irreplaceable resources. I will keep doing all I can to defend important cultural and religious sites and the sacred landscape of the greater Chaco region for future generations.”

- Senator Martin Heinrich

“This effort will preserve the greater Chaco region for generations to come. Chaco Canyon is sacred land that has been home to some of the most resilient communities in history, and it is our responsibility to protect against efforts that would destroy the legacy of the Chacoan people and other indigenous communities or harm these beautiful public lands. We must do everything possible to defend the greater Chaco area by halting future oil and gas development in the area, and I’m proud to support legislation that will further address the environmental, health, economic, and cultural needs of this region.”

-Assistant Speaker, Congressman Ben Ray Lujan

It’s important that we protect Chaco Canyon, both because it is a sacred place that should be valued the same way we value other sacred places, but also because public lands must be protected. However, time and again this special place has been put up to be exploited by big oil companies. By introducing these protections we’re going beyond protecting a beautiful piece of New Mexico, we’re recognizing the significance Chaco holds for the Native American community and to all New Mexicans. By keeping Chaco from being destroyed by the fossil fuel industry, future generations will have access to this special place.”

-Congresswoman Deb Haaland

“I am proud to introduce the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act along with the rest of the New Mexico delegation.  It is the result of years of hard work and collaboration between New Mexico’s Congressional delegation, tribal leadership, and other stakeholders that will ensure Chaco Canyon and its sacred lands are protected for generations to come.  Moving forward, it is critical that we continue to work together with tribal communities to honor our trust responsibility and protect sacred, ancestral lands like Chaco Canyon.”

- Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small

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ABOUT THE NEW MEXICO WILDERNESS ALLIANCE: The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance or “New Mexico Wild” is a non-profit 501 (C)(3), independent, homegrown, grassroots, conservation organization dedicated to the protection, restoration and continued respect of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. With staff and thousands of supporters throughout the state, New Mexico Wild is dedicated to the rights and the value of citizen involvement in protecting increasingly rare wild places within public lands. Just as freedom is every American’s birthright so too is Wilderness.

New Mexico Wild statement on Interior Secretary’s Chaco visit with Senator Heinrich

For Immediate Release                                                                          

New Mexico Wild statement on Interior Secretary’s Chaco visit with Senator Heinrich

ALBUQUERQUE (May 29, 2019) – New Mexico Wild Executive Director Mark Allison today released the following statement regarding Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s tour of Chaco Culture National Historical Park with Senator Martin Heinrich:

“We are grateful to Senator Martin Heinrich for inviting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to tour Chaco Culture National Historical Park and for securing his commitment to place a moratorium on new leasing on BLM lands within 10 miles of Chaco for the next year. This affords some critical breathing room to get the best result possible in BLM’s Resource Management Plan and to advance permanent protections through passage of the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act. Secretary Bernhardt’s visit and commitment are a welcome step and we thank Senator Heinrich for his leadership creating this opportunity.”

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ABOUT THE NEW MEXICO WILDERNESS ALLIANCE: The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance or “New Mexico Wild” is a non-profit 501 (C)(3), independent, homegrown, grassroots, conservation organization dedicated to the protection, restoration and continued respect of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. With staff and thousands of supporters throughout the state, New Mexico Wild is dedicated to the rights and the value of citizen involvement in protecting increasingly rare wild places within public lands. Just as freedom is every American’s birthright so too is Wilderness.

New Mexico Wild celebrates creation of thirteen new wilderness areas in state

New Mexico Wild celebrates creation of thirteen new wilderness areas in state

Legislation signed today contains more than 270,000 acres of new wilderness

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (March 12, 2019) – U.S. President Donald Trump today signed a package of public lands legislation that, in part, establishes thirteen new wilderness areas in New Mexico totaling approximately 272,586 acres. Ten of the new wilderness areas are within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument and two are within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. The amount of new wilderness for New Mexico contained in S. 47, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act represents the most acreage of wilderness designated in New Mexico in a single year since 1980.

“It is a historic day for New Mexicans who overwhelmingly support permanent protections for our most wild places,” said Mark Allison, Executive Director of New Mexico Wild. “This result is the culmination of decades of hard work by citizens throughout the state who have relentlessly advocated for more wilderness designations. We are fortunate to have leaders representing us in Congress who understand the importance of public lands to our communities and help push legislation like this across the finish line.”

A wilderness area designation is the highest level of protection for federal public lands. Only Congress may designate wilderness areas or change the status of existing wilderness areas. The designations that became official today bring the total amount of protected wilderness in New Mexico to approximately 1,968,184 acres.

Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich co-sponsored the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Conservation Act, which was absorbed into the public lands package that was signed into law today. The legislation includes ten wilderness areas within the national monument totaling 241,554 acres.

Legislation to safeguard the wilderness in Doña Ana County was first introduced by former Senator Jeff Bingaman in 2009 in the 111th Congress, and then again by Senators Udall and Heinrich in the 112th and 113th Congresses.

Hunting, livestock grazing, hiking, camping, horseback riding, firefighting, law enforcement activities, and border security will still be permitted in the wilderness areas. The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks contains approximately 306 bird species and 78 mammal species including golden eagles, mule deer, javelina, cougar, ring-tail cat, and quail.

A 2016 poll showed 78 percent of citizens in Doña Ana County support the protection of wilderness within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument.

Also included in the public lands package was the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act, which was also co-sponsored by Senators Udall and Heinrich, to designate the Cerro del Yuta Wilderness and the Rio San Antonio Wilderness within the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. The bill passed the Senate without amendment in December 2017. Congressman Ben Ray Lujan sponsored an identical bill in the House of Representatives, which was co-sponsored by former Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham. The original version of the legislation was first introduced by former U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman in 2009.

A poll conducted by Third Eye Strategies in 2016 found that ninety-three percent of registered voters in Taos County believe that wilderness is important to them. Ninety-five percent of those surveyed believe it is important for public lands to be preserved for future generations.

Designated in 2013, Río Grande del Norte National Monu­ment continues to enjoy overwhelming community support, including the backing of business owners, sportsmen, tribal leaders, land grant heirs, local elected officials, and grazing permittees.

During last year’s review of national monuments by the Department of Interior, New Mexico had the most comments submitted per capita of any state. Nearly ninety eight percent of the comments received for Rio Grande del Norte opposed the executive order and wanted the monument to remain as is.

The potential wilderness areas within the national monument serve as some of the world’s great avian migratory routes. They are also home to wildlife, including bear, pronghorn and elk. The new designations safeguard world-class recreation opportunities already enjoyed within the national monument, such as hiking, hunting, and fishing.

Overall, the two wilderness areas created by the Cerros del Norte Conservation Act comprise 21,540 acres of the 243,140-acre national monument northwest of Taos, New Mexico.

The public lands package also includes the Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness Area comprising approximately 7,242 acres and a 2,250-acre expansion of the existing Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area near the Four Corners region.

In addition to New Mexico’s thirteen new wilderness areas, the public lands package reauthorizes the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has provided funding for public lands and open spaces in all 33 New Mexico counties since its creation. Congress failed to reauthorize the fund in September 2018, leading to the loss of tens of millions of dollars for America’s public lands. Senators Heinrich and Udall have been two of the fund’s most ardent supporters in the Senate.

On February 12, 2019, S. 47 passed the U.S. Senate by a voice vote of 92-8. On February 26, 2019 the package passed the U.S. House on a motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill by a count of 363-62.

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ABOUT THE NEW MEXICO WILDERNESS ALLIANCE: The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance or “New Mexico Wild” is a non-profit 501 (C)(3), independent, homegrown, grassroots, conservation organization dedicated to the protection, restoration and continued respect of New Mexico’s wildlands and Wilderness areas. With staff and thousands of supporters throughout the state, New Mexico Wild is dedicated to the rights and the value of citizen involvement in protecting increasingly rare wild places within public lands. Just as freedom is every American’s birthright so too is Wilderness.

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