DENVER – The U.S. Department of the Interior announced a proposal to protect more than 351,000 acres of public lands. This decision would bar new federal oil and gas leasing for 20 years within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, safeguarding some of the last acres of the Greater Chaco region that remain untouched by the fossil fuel industry. Currently, oil and gas companies hold leases on more than 90% of this key ecological and historical area. Beginning Tuesday, the agency has opened a 90-day public comment period in which the public will be able to submit feedback online, by mail and in person on the proposal to protect the area.
Elk, bobcats, badgers, bats and lizards all make their homes here in dense concentrations, living and roaming among the ruins and the otherworldly red rock formations that surround them. Chaco Canyon is designated as a “dark sky site.” This means that at night you can watch the Milky Way rise into the sky as it illuminates the remnants of a culture that thrived more than a thousand years ago. These remnants feature multi-level homes from 900 AD, including a grand house with more than 600 rooms, and more than 230 outlying settlements all connected by a web of ancient roadways.
In response, Virginia Carter, Environment America’s public lands campaign associate, issued the following statement:
“The Greater Chaco landscape is an incredible window into our past, but we risk ruining this special place if protections aren’t established. Already, more than 90% of the Greater Chaco landscape is currently lost to oil and gas drilling, which contaminates the air and water with dangerous chemicals. This pollution is harmful to the wildlife, the natural beauty of the land, and the local community. We hope Americans log on to their computers and rush to the post office to submit their public comments in favor of protecting what small portion of this wild space remains outside the clutches of the fossil fuel industry.
“This 20-year ban on oil and gas development is a good first step toward safeguarding this living landscape. However, it’s not the finish line. Congress must pass a comprehensive bill protecting the greater Chaco landscape. There should be no oil and gas excavation – new or old – in or near this special place.
“It would truly be a dark night, figuratively of course, if we fail to protect this beautiful landscape, because failure means that the night will be lit up with oil drilling flares and machinery.”
Environment America is a national network of 29 state environmental groups. Our staff work together for clean air, clean water, clean energy, wildlife and open spaces, and a livable climate. Our members across the United States put grassroots support behind our research and advocacy.