New Mexico Park Visitation Rises

Paul Reed from Archaeology Southwest pens a blog post on the visitation rise for NM National Parks. Read the full post at their website.

Several factors may be responsible for the uptick, including a promotional push by the Park Service in conjunction with its 100-year anniversary. Given the threats that the Greater Chaco Landscape currently faces, I welcome the opportunity to blog again about Chaco. Archaeology Southwest and its partners (Partnership for Responsible Business, National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Parks Conservation Association, and The Wilderness Society) have worked hard over the last two years to raise awareness about the impacts of oil-gas development on lands adjacent to the Park. I’ve talked about these efforts in a series of blog posts over the last year or so. Archaeology Southwest and its partners continue to be engaged in the process that the Farmington BLM is undertaking to amend their Resource Management Plan (RMP). Further, we continue to call on BLM to prepare a master leasing plan for the Greater Chaco Landscape as part of this process. This plan can provide a much-needed vision for managing this landscape and ensuring that its world-class cultural resources and modern-day residents are fully protected before additional leasing and development take place.

New Mexico national parks see boost in visits

Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico had 4,680 visits in March, double that of last year and the most since 2004. White Sands National Monument near Alamogordo logged 71,857 visits, the highest since 2002.

“We’re up 20 percent last month over 2015, so that’s a significant increase for us,” said Becky Burghart, a ranger at White Sands.

The National Park System, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, is marketing the richness and history of public parks, monuments and landmarks. Including the newly designated Manhattan Project National Historical Site, there are 15 federal sites in New Mexico.

Chaco Canyon: Cultural Landscape At‐Risk: An Evening with Archaeologists, Tribal Members and Advocates

When:         Wednesday, December 16, 2015, 5:30-7:30pm
Where:        National Congress of American Indians
                    Embassy of Tribal Nations
1516 P Street N.W.
                    Washington, D.C. 20005 (map link)

The Pueblo of Acoma, Archaeology Southwest, National Parks Conservation Association and National Trust for Historic Preservation invite you to learn more about ongoing efforts to protect the fragile Greater Chaco Landscape.  Tribal members, archaeologists and advocates will make brief presentations and answers questions from the audience.  A short reception will follow.  The public is welcome to attend.

Doorways at Pueblo Bonito

Doorways at Pueblo Bonito

Conservationists push to protect Chaco

FARMINGTON – A coalition of conservationists has launched a campaign to raise awareness over oil and gas operations near Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Paul Reed, a Chaco scholar and a preservation archaeologist with Tucson-based Archaeology Southwest, has been working on protecting the Chaco landscape for more than two years with other conservationists. He has just launched a new campaign, the Coalition to Protect the Greater Chaco Landscape.

”Our main goal is the protection of the fragile and irreplaceable landscape associated with Chaco Canyon and the area well beyond Chaco,” Reed said.

Park advocates push for master plan in Chaco Canyon

The greater Chaco area has been home to oil and gas drilling for decades, but improvements in technology have led to a boom in Mancos Shale development. The national historical park itself is protected from drilling, but the checkerboard of federal, state and tribal lands surrounding the park has seen a quick uptick in wells over the past few years (EnergyWire, July 13).

National parks “were never envisioned to be threatened like they are today by development right on the boundaries,” said Ellis Richard, founder of Park Rangers for Our Lands, during a press call yesterday.

The solution, the groups say, starts with getting the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service, Navajo Nation and industry in the same room to work out a master leasing plan (MLP) that avoids sensitive areas. MLPs are a relatively new tool used by BLM in some sensitive landscapes to evaluate broad impacts of development and strike compromises on industry access and mitigation early on.

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New coalition calls for balance to protect the Greater Chaco Landscape

For Immediate Release December 2, 2015:

The Future of Chaco Canyon: A New Mexican Treasure
New coalition calls for balance to protect the Greater Chaco Landscape

Today, four organizations – Archaeology Southwest, the National Parks Conservation Association, Park Rangers for Our Lands and Partnership for Responsible Business – are launching a campaign to protect the Greater Chaco Landscape and to bring greater awareness to ongoing efforts to protect this New Mexico treasure. This internationally significant landscape includes Chaco Culture National Historical Park, as well as thousands of invaluable and fragile cultural resources on surrounding lands. These resources provide a glimpse into the vibrant culture that inhabited the region centuries ago, and whose descendants live on today in nearby pueblos. 

"Chaco Canyon embodies the soul of New Mexico and a key part of American history in the southwest."  said Paul Reed, preservation archaeologist with Archaeology Southwest, "Chaco Canyon’s ongoing significance to nearby pueblos and tribes is one of the main reasons why it was designated a World Heritage Site."

In addition to its rich cultural and natural resources, the Greater Chaco Landscape is also home to one of the country’s most productive oil and gas fields.

"As development encroaches on the Greater Chaco Landscape and its fragile cultural resources, the need to ensure that these resources are protected becomes strikingly evident," said Ellis Richard of Park Rangers for Our Lands, "What we value about Chaco Culture National Historical Park, especially its scenic vistas and night skies, are increasingly threatened by nearby oil and gas development. We need a balanced approach to protect the Greater Chaco Landscape and allow for responsible development."

Public lands are also big business and the backbone of western tourism and recreation industries. Outdoor recreation generates $646 billion in revenue nationally and $6.1 billion in New Mexico.

"In New Mexico, outdoor recreation generates billions in revenue and employs more than 68,000 people," added Alexandra Merlino with the Partnership for Responsible Business, "Our state’s business community values our public lands – and the recreation and outdoor opportunities they provide, as they help support small business owners and entrepreneurs and attract high-skilled workers to our state."

The cultural, economic and natural resources of the Greater Chaco Landscape are significant, and make it clear that the time for a balanced approach to future energy development is needed.

" The Chaco Canyon area represents a treasured and sacred part of our nation’s cultural heritage, and we need to be smart from the start as we plan for future development," said Vanessa Mazal with the National Parks Conservation Association, " Plans are taking shape across the West that will help protect our national parks from the unintended, negative impacts of future development. We urge the Bureau of Land Management to develop such a plan for the Greater Chaco Landscape."

In the coming weeks and months, members of the coalition will be working to raise awareness for how balanced solutions can and will work to protect the important resources around Chaco Canyon.  Archaeology Southwest will kick these efforts off this Saturday, Dec. 5, at the University of New Mexico’s Maxwell Museum, when it hosts a panel discussion with tribal leaders and archaeologists.   More information can be found at the coalition's website:


Native tribes want cultural sites protected

A panel discussion Saturday at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center on the impacts of oil-and-gas to the land featured perspectives of prominent members of the Santa Ana and Acoma pueblos.

Acoma Gov. Fred Vallo Sr. and Santa Ana official Timothy Menchego expressed concern about the destruction of sacred sites in the Four Corners area because of industrial development.

Both areas are under consideration for special master lease plans by the Bureau of Land Management to help identify, avoid and mitigate industrial impacts to sensitive areas, including cultural resources.

Pueblo tribes have ancestral ties to the Mesa Verde and Chaco regions, and frequently visit for cultural and religious reasons.

“We still depend on sacred sites to practice our religion and culture, but they are threatened by the destruction of Mother Earth,” said Menchego, Santa Ana’s cultural resource coordinator. “It’s hard to put in English words, but in our native tongue, it is a lack of spiritual respect, a form of trespass.”

Energy and Environment News, "Udall, archaeologists push Interior to protect N.M. tribal sites from drilling"

A coalition of archaeologists is ramping up pressure on the Bureau of Land Management to protect Native American tribal sites in northwest New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon region from oil and gas development, a day after a top Interior Department official toured the area with Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.).

The group of 25 archaeologists from universities, museums and consulting firms across the nation today submitted a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell asking her to direct BLM to develop a so-called master leasing plan for the region that identifies areas where drilling should and should not be allowed to occur. (subscription required)

Daily Times, "Sen. Tom Udall and Interior Deputy Secretary Connor hit the trail at Chaco Park on Monday"

Udall said the visit to the World Heritage site — one of 22 in the U.S. — was an opportunity to reacquaint himself and other officials with the park as he walks a fine line between satisfying the people concerned with preserving the state’s cultural resources, and people who favor increased oil and gas production.

”Today for me is trying to see if we can find the balance going forward,” Udall said while hiking the park’s Pueblo Alto trail. “Many of the government agencies are working hard to do that. But it’s always good to revisit and take a look and ask questions (and see) where we’re headed in the future. Just being out here and seeing all this history, you know how important it is and, obviously, we have to have that be part of the equation.”

Albuquerque Journal, "Archaeologists call on feds to protect Chaco Canyon area."

In a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, they talked about the countless hours they’ve spent in the field, the dozens of books they’ve published about the Chaco society and their decades of collective experience studying its connection to modern Native American tribes in the Southwest. They call Chaco a distinct resource.

“Many of the features associated with this landscape — the communications and road systems that once linked the canyon to great house sites located as far away as southeast Utah and which are still being identified to this day — have been damaged by the construction of oil and gas roads, pipelines and well pads,” the archaeologists said.

Daily Times, "Conservationists push for protection of cultural sites around Chaco park"

Paul Reed, a preservation archaeologist with Tucson-based Archaeology Southwest and a Chaco scholar, led tribal members of the Acoma Historic Preservation Office and others to Chaco Culture National Historical Park and the park’s outlying areas last week to raise awareness of the impacts of oil and gas development on the World Heritage site.

Since spring, Reed has taken groups of concerned people on tours of the park and surrounding areas to spotlight the changing landscape and promote the area’s cultural and archeological value.

Daily Times: Column, "Working together to strike a balance for Greater Chaco"

Chaco Canyon is more than just a national park, though. It’s central to the history of our people and other pueblos and tribes in New Mexico. A thousand years ago, it was the center of the pueblo world. People from throughout the San Juan Basin traveled to the canyon along formal, constructed roads, including the famous Great North Road, to trade and participate in religious and cultural events. To this day, pueblo people come to Chaco Canyon to honor our ancestors and carry on these religious and cultural practices.

Archeological marvels, such as Pueblo Bonito, are the reason the United Nations designated Chaco Canyon and several sites outside the park as a World Heritage Site. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has identified nearly 2,000 Pueblo and Navajo cultural sites on surrounding public lands.
However, as oil and gas development encroaches closer and closer to Chaco Canyon, the health of the park and the beauty of the landscape are increasingly threatened. A spider web of drill pads, roads and pipelines now fragments the landscape north of the park, surrounding some of the World Heritage Sites and crisscrossing the Great North Road (and other prehistoric roads). Ozone forming pollutants from well sites using outdated technology are making a bad situation even worse for air quality. And Chaco Canyon’s famous night skies are now at risk, due to the increasingly common practice of “flaring” natural gas when drilling for oil.
By Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo and Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque

Santa Fe New Mexican, "Touching Chaco: Confront the lessons of the past and consider the course of the future."

People at Zuni, particularly the religious people, are worried about development approaching the ruins. He’d been told that another 1,500 oil wells could be drilled in the basin within the next 15 to 20 years.

Chaco is sacred to not just his Zuni people but to many Native cultures, he says.

For Native people, the land isn’t an escape. It’s a return.

“We call that our spiritual place and (it’s) part of our umbilical cord to our migration route. So that’s very important to us, and we’ve never left those homelands. They’re part of our spirits,” he says, standing on the tarmac. “Our ancestors still live upon the lands. Every time we visit, we do offerings to greet them. Even though we don’t see them, they’re still in existence.”

KUNM, "...Like A War Zone": Worries About Increased Oil Drilling."

The federal government deferred new oil leases near Chaco Canyon National Historical Park last month. But many people who live here are still worried about how development outside the park will affect their communities, their landscapes, and their children’s futures.

If you’ve driven Highway 550 between Cuba and Farmington recently, you’ve seen the oil rigs and flares on federal allotments along the road near Lybrook and Counselor.

But people like White – people who live here – seem surprised to see how fast things have changed. “When they’re done sucking everything out, everybody’s going to pack up and leave and leave their trash behind,” she says. “Nobody’s going to clean it up. That’s what bothers me.”

Washington Post, "Delaware-size gas plume over West illustrates the cost of leaking methane."

Service roads crisscross the high desert near the Chaco Culture National Park as oil and gas companies race to install new wells. The energy boom in the Southwest is raising concerns about greenhouse gas pollution as well as the possible defacing of ancient ruins of cities built by Pueblo Indian tribes centuries ago.

KUNM, "Archaeologists Worry As Drilling Approaches Chaco."

“I get an overwhelming feeling of, I’m coming back to a wonderful ancient place,” says Paul Reed, an archaeologist with the nonprofit Archaeology Southwest. “It might sound a little corny, but a lot of people have that quasi-religious experience driving into Chaco.”

From his job at nearby Salmon Ruins, he drives into Chaco regularly—and he likes that long, unpaved road. “You see Fajada Butte and then you begin the loop road through the canyon where you can tour up to ten different great house structures,” Reed explains. “You really get a sense of how monumental the building was in Chaco and really what the place must have meant to the people who lived there.”

High Country News, "Will falling oil prices kill the shale revolution?"

About 20 miles from the iconic Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Culture National Historical Park, and just a couple away from the elephantine hills that artist Georgia O’Keeffe dubbed “The Black Place,” two rows of tanks and an assortment of pipes interrupt the high desert. They’re painted forest green, perhaps to blend in, though almost everything here is the color of ash or burnished clay.

This is Chaco 2408 32P #114H, one of dozens of oil wells drilled in the last few years in northern New Mexico’s Gallup Sandstone, one of the nation’s newest “tight oil” plays. Chaco #114H and thousands like it in North Dakota, northern Colorado and Texas exist because of high oil prices, driven by demand from China and the developing world. But now, thanks in part to slower growth in China and the flood of U.S. oil, crude prices are falling. Though the resulting drop in gasoline prices benefits most sectors of the economy (average gas prices in New Mexico dropped below $3 this fall), it may dampen or even crush the shale oil revolution.

Santa Fe New Mexican, "Editorial: Time to save Chaco is now."

A World Heritage Site, Chaco is located in one of the most productive oil and gas basins in the United States and is increasingly being targeted for drilling. With thousands of new wells possible, thanks to technology, the booming industry is ringing the ancient walls. Some sites will be located on or near lands sacred to both the Pueblo Indians and the Navajos.

This must not be allowed to happen.

Yes, the United States and New Mexico need oil and gas. We understand, too, the necessity of growing jobs and encouraging economic activity. Some values matter more than money, and one of them is the preservation of what the ancestors left behind.