- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The federal government is planning an expanded review of public lands management in northwestern New Mexico to address concerns about oil and gas development surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Chaco includes the remnants of an ancient civilization whose monumental architecture and cultural influences have been a source of mystery for years.

Native American groups, archaeologists and environmentalists have been pushing for years for the Bureau of Land Management to consider the historical and cultural significance of the area as it develops a new resource management plan for the San Juan Basin, one of the largest natural gas fields in the nation.

For more than a year, all new leasing within a 10-mile radius of Chaco park has been deferred pending the completion of an updated plan.

U.S. Deputy Interior Secretary Mike Connor announced Thursday that the agency and the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Navajo Regional Office are joining forces to take a closer look at management across federal and tribal lands throughout the region. This will mark the first joint review for the two agencies.

Connor said he listened to concerns about development during a visit he and U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., made to Chaco last year. The review is a demonstration of the federal government’s “commitment to ensuring that the region’s rich cultural and archaeological resources are protected,” he said in a statement.

Udall on Thursday described Chaco park as a cultural destination that’s important not only to the region but the entire state.

Environmentalists also praised the move.

The Bureau of Land Management started the process to update its resource management plan in 2014. The plan guides development activities on public lands.

The San Juan Basin, which stretches into southern Colorado, has had gas production for more than 60 years. More development is expected in some areas because technology is making it easier for energy companies to tap the region’s oil resources.

Wally Drangmeister, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said the industry believes it can continue operating in the area surrounding Chaco Canyon in a way that protects what he called a priceless archaeological site.

“For the past several years, the Chaco Canyon site has been used as a rallying point by out-of-state groups opposed to any further oil and gas development without taking into account the actual protections already in place or the wide range of opinions held by those living near Chaco Canyon,” Drangmeister said.

Industry officials said they are pleased the agencies are planning a series of public meetings to collect comments about the future plan.

Some archaeologists have theorized that Chaco’s influence spread far and wide from its remote desert location. The park includes a series of great houses, or massive multistory stone buildings, some of which were oriented to solar and lunar directions and offered lines of sight between buildings to allow for communication.

___

Follow Susan Montoya Bryan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/susanmbryanNM

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide