One can only imagine the Desert Southwest during the 11th and 12th centuries when a thriving cultural phenomenon now called Chaco Canyon was at its peak. Hailed by anthropologists as an extraordinary leap for human culture, it was a time of accelerated learning and advancements in technology. The ancestors of the present day native people in the Southwest built great structures which towered over any other buildings in the region at that time. The ancient city was the center of a regional system covering more than 40,000 square miles. The largest of the Great Houses erected is Pueblo Bonito, which until the 18th century was the largest single dwelling in North America. As one anthropologist notes, “Rich burials at Pueblo Bonito suggest to some archaeologists the existence of elite leadership, presumably the lords of the regional system indicated by a network of ‘roads’ and over 150 smaller Great Houses or ‘outliers.’"
Chaco Canyon Is A Testament To Human Will
Today, hundreds of archeologists flock to Chaco Culture National Historical Park to study and absorb the cultural relevance and wonder. Indigenous groups, the Pueblo, Navajo, Hopi and Zuni peoples revere this sacred place as their ancestral home. Located in northwestern New Mexico, between Albuquerque and Farmington, in a remote canyon cut by a dry streambed called the Chaco Wash, Chaco Canyon is a testament to the resourcefulness and capacity to learn for determined, organized people. One still marvels at the complex society and highly organized large-scale structures, with multi-story construction and sophisticated masonry created by an early people. Its extraordinary historic significance has made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
President Trump Is Willing To Destroy Chaco Canyon For His Donors’ Profits
The precious nature of this mysterious and sacred place gives us great resolve in our struggle to protect and preserve it from the onslaught of the powerful and insatiable oil and gas industry. Things turned grave when the Trump administration issued an Instruction Memorandum (IM) to all Field Officials of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in January of this year. The instruction was clear: remove any obstacles in the way of leasing federal lands to the oil and gas industry for immediate and expanded fossil fuel extraction — including Chaco Canyon.
Western states were hit hard and fast, with New Mexico at the top of the list setting an all-time record in September “by grossing nearly $1 billion in bonus bids for oil and natural gas drilling on 142 parcels in southeast New Mexico.” Ninety-eight thousand more acres go up for lease in December, with 45,000 of those acres in the Greater Chaco region. In March 2019, thousands more acres will also go on the auction block.
With 91% of Greater Chaco already leased out, people all over the U.S. have weighed in on these new bidding gluts. Lease sales at one time were held in public places and non-bidders were allowed a space to watch live. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, one lease sale drew hundreds of protesters from surrounding states. Since then, the BLM has taken to holding online auctions, making it more difficult for the public to voice their concerns. They have also shortened the period of public comments from 30 days down to 10 and use bureaucratic paperwork hurdles to disqualify as many comments against the leasing as possible, and to make it more difficult for the public to submit them.
Greater Chaco Leases Must Be Stopped Because Fracking Will Destroy the Site
Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing is dangerously destructive. Fracking uses millions of gallons of fresh water laced with chemicals that are known carcinogens. Extracted fracking wastewater can be radioactive, and its disposal through injection wells has proven to increase earthquakes. The people in the area suffer poor air quality and compromised health within miles of the drilling. Now we know that in addition to increased rates of asthma, migraines, cardiovascular disease, and neurological disorders, there is a direct link to low birth weight babies from mothers who live near frack wells. The continued extraction and subsequent burning of fossil fuels also contribute mightily to climate change by pumping copious carbon emissions into our environment.
Oil and gas extraction targets indigenous and disenfranchised communities. The Dakota Access Pipeline was built on or near tribal land. Greater Chaco is checkerboarded with Navajo allotted land, private land and BLM land. Even with the mandate for government-to-government tribal consultation, fracking and fracking infrastructure get rubber stamped by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and other federal agencies.
We Can’t Afford To Lose Chaco Canyon
America’s public lands belong to everyone in our country. National forests, monuments, wildlife refuges, and other national public lands are a critical part of our country’s heritage and the legacy we wish to leave our children. The national park and greater Chaco region are in serious jeopardy from drilling rigs, truck traffic, and infringements on people’s safety and health.
We may never resolve the mysteries of the Chaco Phenomenon. Who built these amazing buildings? How many people lived in this forbidding canyon? How did people survive in Chaco, much less create this astonishing civilization? What effects did Chaco have on the rest of the Southwest? These are only a few of the questions that people who have seen this wonder have asked and tried to answer. If we allow the continued extraction of fossil fuels in Chaco Canyon and other federal lands, we will have squandered a sacred and irreplaceable national treasure. We need you to stand with us to protect this amazing place.