SAA Calls on BLM to End All Lease Sales in the Chaco Canyon Region

Feb 25, 2019

In a February 15, 2019, letter to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) New Mexico State Office, the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) called on the BLM to halt all land lease sales in the BLM-Farmington Field Office area, which encompasses the increasingly threatened lands surrounding the Chaco Culture National Historical Park. SAA has asked BLM to complete resource and environmental reviews currently underway and to increase consultation with Tribal stakeholders before any further lease sales take place. Despite the deferral of some lease sales, a sale is still planned for areas in the Greater Chaco Region on March 28, 2019.

Chaco Canyon was the center of a thriving society that flourished in the Four Corners region of New Mexico from 850-1250 CE. Chaco Canyon and several of the outlying great houses are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The region has deep spiritual and cultural importance to contemporary Pueblo people and many Native American Tribes, including the Navajo, Apache, and Ute. 

For the past five years, the Farmington Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management has been in the process of amending the 2003 Resource Management Plan and draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Mancos-Gallup Shale Play. This was begun in response to increased oil-gas development in northwest New Mexico, and in conjunction with the Navajo Area Office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

On January 26, 2018, BLM released a brief outline of amendment draft alternatives, but did not solicit public participation. However, little additional progress has been made on this plan in the past year, and there have been no meaningful opportunities for public review or comment on the proposed plan amendment. Many Tribes believe that that the Bureau has yet to do the consultation required under the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. It has been become clear that Tribal perspectives have not been and are not being heard or appropriately considered in the compliance process by the Federal agencies.

Despite the recent delay of the sale of some oil and gas leases in the Chaco Canyon Area, SAA believes all lease sales should be suspended until the completion of the Resource Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement. SAA strongly urges the BLM and BIA to allow full and transparent public review of the amendment process, and meaningful consultation with all concerned Native American Tribes.

SAA is an international organization that, since its founding in 1934, has been dedicated to the research about and interpretation and protection of the archaeological heritage of the Americas. With more than 7,000 members, SAA represents professional archaeologists in colleges and universities, museums, government agencies, tribal programs, and the private sector. SAA has members in all 50 states as well as many other nations around the world.