Protect New Mexico’s Cultural Heritage: Ban Fracking on Federal Lands
I’ve been a New Mexican for more than 30 years now. When I first arrived, I realized I found the place of my heart, a land where whatever thrives here holds on for dear life. I also found that the soul of the land dwells in a unique place we call Chaco Canyon or Chaco Culture National Historical Park. It’s a mysterious place once home to thousands between 850 and 1250 AD. The ruins of great houses still stand, showing architectural expertise and masonry techniques unique to their time.
I have visited the park numerous times over the years, and each time, have discovered something new, have seen something different and have felt the presence of past inhabitants. Pueblo descendants say that it was a special gathering place where clans converged for ceremonial purposes. But no one really knows for sure.
What I do know is that the canyon and all of its ruins are a treasure not only for New Mexicans, but for all people on Earth. Those of us who are privileged to walk the Earth today are indebted to these unknown architects for the vision they created in this once thriving center of North American culture, a spiritual place to be honored and respected. A national park today, the canyon is one of only 20 World Heritage sites in the United States, designated in l987 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as an example of world cultural patrimony.
Such a remote location, you must travel about 17 miles of bumpy, dusty or muddy road to reach the entrance of the park. Sometimes during a downpour, the road is impassable. The surrounding land is a checkerboard composed of Navajo land, public lands and those managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Leases for oil and gas drilling have already been granted in the area, Several years back, grassroots organizations pressured the then land commissioner to designate a 3-mile buffer zone around Chaco and all other parks in New Mexico, but that has never been formalized.
Recently, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposed to lease 18,500 acres of land near Chaco Canyon for oil and gas development. The lease was deferred until January. If the BLM and President Obama continue to drill and frack for oil and natural gas on federal lands, Chaco Canyon and its rich cultural history will be put at risk.
Approximately 4,000 archaeological sites exist within the park. Sixteen Chaco “great houses” are the largest, best-preserved and most complex architectural structures in North America. The civilization that flourished in the area attained remarkable achievements in agriculture, engineering, astronomy and economic organization, as well as architecture. However, these structures are very fragile, and drilling rigs and truck traffic in the area already threaten their very existence. Heavy vehicle traffic on the dirt roads in the area create seismic vibrations which could greatly disturb these historic ruins and cause them to deteriorate further.
I have spent many hours both day and night experiencing Chaco Canyon. I have filmed the migration of the moon through portals in Casa Rinconada during the winter solstice. I have attended the Zuni dances during the summer solstice. I have watched the sun set from Chetro Ketl ruin. Elk have migrated into the park and are frequent visitors to the Chaco wash. It is a place where the spirit can find a refuge under star-lit nighttime skies, amidst scenic sandstone outcrops.
After thousands of years of existence, these cultural artifacts are threatened by the encroachment of drilling for fossil fuels and the insatiable need for energy. We cannot allow the demise of this archeological and anthropological treasure.
The public comment period to tell President Obama and the BLM to ban fracking on federal lands ends in less than a week. We need to take action now! Sign this petition to protect our precious public lands!