Having monitored the progress of the Honoring Chaco Initiative (HCI) for 18 months, the Greater Chaco Coalition today shared recommendations on how the Department of Interior can ensure the initiative produces timely, durable outcomes that advance environmental justice.
Using a new collaborative process, the HCI is intended to bring federal agencies, Tribes, advocacy groups, and stakeholders together to address the need for lasting landscape-level management of the Greater Chaco Landscape. Alongside HCI, Interior Sec. Debra Haaland initiated a 20-year mineral withdrawal of federally managed minerals within 10 miles of Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The Initiative is also intended to identify and address the cumulative environmental and social injustices experienced by communities in the hopes of adopting a management framework that builds toward a just and sustainable economic future.
The recommendations align with the coalition’s platform and were compiled in close alignment with recommendations from the groups that are involved in the ongoing phases of the Honoring Chaco Initiative.
In summary, we call on the federal agencies to engage in meaningful collaborative processes with Tribes and impacted communities so the cultural, spiritual, ecological, and economic characteristics unique to the Greater Chaco Landscape are identified to create a strong foundation for future land-management planning. The coalition also highlights the need for the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management to:
- Develop funding mechanisms to address legacies of pollution including the large-scale clean-up of oil and gas infrastructure and full remediation of abandoned and orphaned wells;
- Develop a new “New Mexico Greater Chaco Cultural Landscape Resource Management Plan” that encompasses lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management Farmington and Rio Puerco field offices;
- Define cumulative emissions thresholds as outlined in a recent 10th Circuit court ruling;
- Create and provide resources for a Tribal Advisory Committee and an Environmental Justice Advisory Committee to inform federal resource management; and,
- Pause all new leasing and drilling activities while the HCI and resource management processes are still underway.
Over last summer and fall, Interior convened HCI participants, which included members of the Greater Chaco Coalition to produce a situation assessment report and to initiate Phase 1 of the HCI meetings. As of now, it is unclear how subsequent steps in the process will unfold and how Interior will ensure HCI leads to durable outcomes for the protection of the Greater Chaco Landscape and communities.
Since the announcement of HCI, Interior’s Bureau of Land Management continues to rubberstamp drilling permits in the Greater Chaco region. Late last year, Interior defended a decision to approve Trump-era leases under flawed environmental analyses. Fortunately, the recent 10th Circuit ruling favored conservation groups’ arguments, finding that the agency violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to account for the air-quality and climate impacts of oil and gas fracking in the region.
While final approval of the mineral withdrawal is expected sometime this year, it is estimated to have minimal impact on oil and gas drilling in the region. Since 2015, Greater Chaco Coalition members have sent nearly two million public comments to the Bureau of Land Management calling for the agency to exercise restraint and restore the balance in the Greater Chaco region beyond the proposed 10-mile buffer around Chaco Culture National Park.
The recommendations shared with the agencies that manage federal and ancestral tribal lands should be a good starting point for environmental justice-based policies that can serve to protect the cultural integrity of the Greater Chaco Landscape.
Coalition member statements:
“Through these recommendations, we hope to ensure that the Honoring Chaco Initiative results in concrete, meaningful, and just processes and outcomes that redress unjust colonial legacies of extraction and pollution, account for cumulative impacts across the Greater Chaco landscape, and advance environmental and climate justice now and for future generations.”
— Ally Beasley, Western Environmental Law Center
“While New Mexico is facing more climate devastation, the Department of the Interior and its agencies must implement swift and bold action to protect all cultural and historic landscapes. The Greater Chaco coalition feels that future landscape planning must come from holistic approaches including community engagement and environmental justice principles. We are at a pivotal time to begin the phase out of fossil fuels and hope that our coalition’s recommendations for the Honoring Chaco Initiative are held in high esteem”
— Julia Bernal, Pueblo Action Alliance
“It is our hope that these recommendations become a part of the HCI.”
— Samuel Sage, Diné C.A.R.E.
“Indigenous Birthing People must be centered in regards to environmental protections. It is our right to birth and raise our children in a clean, healthy and safe environment. All leasing and extraction must be halted until the cumulative impacts are addressed, and all contaminated sites are fully restored and remediated.”
— Beata Tsosie, Breath of My Heart Birthplace
“Chaco Canyon region is not for sale!”
— Hazel James-Tohe, San Juan Collaborative for Health Equity
“For too long the Greater Chaco area and its peoples have been sacrificed to extractive industries. The Honoring Chaco Initiative has a chance to mend broken promises in this region and end the era of sacrifice zones.”
— Melissa Troutman, WildEarth Guardians
“We urge the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of the Interior to consider and implement the recommendations provided within this letter. It is imperative that the health and well being of people and natural resources be held with respect and regard.”
— Mary Guiterrez, Earth Ethics, Inc.
“It is important to bring the land up to a pristine state so that the future generation can continue to live there for years to come.”
— David J. Tsosie, Diné Centered Research and Evaluation
“We are at a fundamental crossroads to act on climate change and transition to an economically just future that prioritizes environmental justice. The Greater Chaco landscape and impacted communities have been sacrificed long enough. It’s time to end the sacrifice zones, and these recommendations provide a pathway for ensuring this region is fully remediated and protected.”
— Miya King-Flaherty, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter
Rose Rushing, Western Environmental Law Center, 505-278-9577,
Julia Bernal, Pueblo Action Alliance, 505-220 – 0051,