Map: Why the Chaco protection bill is just a first step

On May 22, Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both Democrats from New Mexico, introduced the Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act. If passed, the Act will prohibit oil and gas development on federal land and minerals within a roughly ten-mile buffer zone surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

The proposal drew praise from the All Pueblo Council of Governors, the Navajo Nation, and other historical preservation and conservation groups. Yet others say that while it was a positive first step toward protecting cultural resources from the onslaught of oil and gas drilling, it simply doesn’t go far enough, particularly when it comes to looking out for the Navajo communities that are currently bearing the brunt of drilling.

The map below shows why the response hasn’t been as enthusiastic as one might expect. It also gives one an idea of how the checkerboard land patterns in the Chaco region make it particularly hard for federal land managers or anyone else to get a handle on oil and gas development. For the compelling story of the resistance to drilling Chaco, as well as deep background and history of the Checkerboard, read my feature story for High Country News. 

The act will only withdraw federal lands — yellow on the map — and minerals within the Cultural Heritage Boundary (grey line around Chaco). State, private, and tribal/allotment minerals — even the ones within the withdrawal area — are not affected, meaning development can still occur there. So while the withdrawal area is over 900,000 acres, only 316,076 acres will be withdrawn. Meanwhile, the communities of Nageezi, Lybrook and Counselor are not in the protection area, so they won’t get anything from the bill, yet they are the ones bearing the brunt of recent drilling. The upshot? The Act leaves a lot of land, the people who live there, and the cultural resources unprotected. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s