ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Leaders from several American Indian communities want federal land managers to consider the cultural significance of a large swath of land surrounding Chaco Cultural National Historic Park as they plan for more oil and gas development in northwestern New Mexico.
The All Pueblo Council of Governors recently passed a resolution calling for the Bureau of Land Management to make permanent a 10-mile buffer around Chaco park. They're also asking for the federal agency to develop a master leasing plan that takes into consideration the significance of the region.
The governors stated they understand the need for energy development but that drilling should not threaten "our ancestral graveyards, sacred sites or water sources."
The resolution comes as the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs hold the last of several public hearings Friday on the Navajo Nation as part of an expanded review of management in the area that was sparked by oil and gas development concerns.
Some Navajos have been outspoken about development in the San Juan Basin, one of the largest natural gas fields in the nation. They have attended the public meetings, armed with signs that state "No leases, no pipelines, no drilling."
They've also voiced their solidarity with the hundreds of protesters fighting a proposed pipeline in North Dakota.
"Water protectors up north are showing the world the true power we have always held as Native Americans," said Kendra Pinto, Navajo community leader and Twin Pines resident. "We know we must protect Mother Earth."
The Bureau of Land Management plans to have a draft management plan for northwestern New Mexico ready in 2017.
Officials said Friday they are incorporating the request for a master leasing plan into the alternatives to be considering but that it's too soon to say what the final plan could look like.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Chaco park includes the remnants of an ancient civilization whose monumental architecture and cultural influences have been a source of mystery for years. While the park represents the heart of the area, numerous archaeological sites lie well outside park boundaries.
Native American groups, archaeologists and environmentalists have been pushing for years for the Bureau of Land Management to consider the historical and cultural significance of the area as it develops the new management plan.
The San Juan Basin, which stretches into southern Colorado, has seen gas production for more than 60 years. More development is expected in some areas because technology is making it easier for energy companies to tap the region's oil resources.