The BLM leases lands near Chaco Canyon for $3 million

The controversial parcels are the first auctioned online in New Mexico.

 

On January 25, the Bureau of Land Management leased nearly 850 acres of land for drilling in northwest New Mexico, netting close to $3 million. The agency offers leases on millions of acres of public land per year, but this latest sale was unusual. Not only was it the first time that the BLM has conducted a lease sale online rather than live in the New Mexico region, the sale had also been postponed three times over the last five years, because its lands are just 20 miles from Chaco Culture National Historical Park (also a UNESCO World Heritage site and an International Dark Sky Park).

Pueblo Bonito ruins in Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
Flickr user John Fowler

While Chaco Canyon and its ruins, such as Pueblo Bonito, are protected from development, as is a 10-mile buffer around the park, surrounding areas are not. Chaco is the core of a much larger Ancestral Puebloan civilization that extended for hundreds of miles in the central San Juan Basin from about 900 to 1150 A.D. The land today is sacred to Navajo, Hopi, Zuni and other Pueblo Indians, and bears remnants of a system of 30-foot-wide roads radiating outward from Chaco Canyon, as well as extensive ruins, artifacts and even lunar calendars etched into boulders. None of those have yet been studied thoroughly by archaeologists.

Nonetheless, about 90 percent of the Greater Chaco area has already been leased for oil and gas development, and Native Americans and environmental groups have fought to exclude the remaining areas. They succeeded in delaying this lease sale multiple times over concerns that hydraulic fracturing and drilling would harm the environment and public health. A petition signed by 650 residents and industry representatives, however, asked the BLM to allow the sale to proceed for the jobs and revenue it would generate.

Drilling near Lybrook, New Mexico, about 45 miles from Chaco Canyon.
Flickr user John Fowler

While the local Bureau of Land Management office gathered public input after the initial outcry, Duane “Chili” Yazzie, president of the Shiprock Chapter of the Navajo Nation, recently told the Durango Herald, “It’s an amazing contradiction to me. (The BLM) say they are getting input into the process from the local people, but at the same time, they seem to be proceeding with the sale, regardless of what comments they generate.”

The parcels won't be released to the winning bidders until several protests filed against the leases have been resolved.

Jodi Peterson is High Country News’ senior editor.

High Country News Classifieds
  • GRAND CANYON DIRECTOR
    The Grand Canyon director, with the Grand Canyon manager, conservation director, and other staff, envisions, prioritizes, and implements strategies for the Grand Canyon Trust's work...
  • ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a part-time Administrative Assistant to support the organization's general operations. This includes phone and email communications, office correspondence and...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • ONE WILL: THREE WIVES
    by Edith Tarbescu. "One Will: Three Wives" is packed with a large array of interesting suspects, all of whom could be a murderer ... a...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR, SALAZAR CENTER FOR NORTH AMERICAN CONSERVATION
    The Program Director will oversee the programmatic initiatives of The Salazar Center, working closely with the Center's Director and staff to engage the world's leading...
  • WILDEARTH GUARDIANS - WILD PLACES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Salary Range: $70,000-$80,000. Location: Denver, CO, Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, Missoula, MT or potentially elsewhere for the right person. Application Review: on a rolling basis....
  • RIVER EDUCATOR/GUIDE + TRIP LEADER
    Position Description: Full-time seasonal positions (mid-March through October) Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10 year old nonprofit organization fostering community stewardship of...
  • BOOKKEEPER/ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
    Position Description: Part-time, year-round bookkeeping and administration position (12 - 16 hours/week) $16 - $18/hour DOE Organizational Background: Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) is a 10...
  • LAND STEWARD
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks a full-time Land Steward to manage and oversee its conservation easement monitoring and stewardship program for 42,437 acres in...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ventana Wilderness Alliance is seeking an experienced forward-facing public land conservation leader to serve as its Executive Director. The mission of the Ventana Wilderness Alliance...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    The Quivira Coalition (www.quiviracoaltion.org) is a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education,...
  • GRANT WRITER
    "We all love this place we call Montana. We believe that land and water and air are not ours to despoil, but ours to steward...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    The Development Director is responsible for organizing and launching a coherent set of development activities to build support for the Natural History Institute's programs and...
  • WILDLIFE PROJECT COORDINATOR
    Founded in 1936, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF or Federation) is America's largest and most trusted grassroots conservation organization with 53 state/territorial affiliates and more...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation helps protect and conserve water, wildlife and wild lands in Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem by supporting organizations and people who...
  • TRUSTEE AND PHILANTHROPY RELATIONS MANGER,
    Come experience Work You Can Believe In! The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is seeking a Trustee and Philanthropy Relations Manager. This position is critical to...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR AT FRIENDS OF CEDAR MESA
    -The Land, History, and People of the Bears Ears Region- The Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa region is one of the most beautiful, complex, diverse,...
  • CONSERVATION SPECIALIST
    Position will remain open until January 31, 2021 Join Our Team! The New Mexico Land Conservancy (NMLC) is a non-profit land trust organization dedicated to...
  • OLIVERBRANCH CONSULTING
    Non-Profit Management Professional specializing in Transitional Leadership, Strategic Collaborations, Communications and Grant Management/Writing.
  • GREAT VIEWS, SMALL FOOTPRINT
    Close to town but with a secluded feel, this eco-friendly home includes solar panels, a graywater reuse system, tankless hot water, solar tubes, and rainwater...