(Reuters) – The Biden administration said on Friday it would stop issuing new oil and gas drilling leases within 10 miles of the Chaco Culture National Historic Park, a region central to Pueblo ancestral heritage in northwest New Mexico.
Tribes, conservationists and state officials have long called on the federal government to ban drilling in the area. Structures in the area date back thousands of years, and the park is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency.
President Joe Biden first proposed protecting the area in November of 2021. It is aligned with his goal to conserve at least 30% of federal lands and waters by 2030.
But, the Interior Department ban on new leasing on federal lands around Chaco will last for just 20 years and does not extend to private, state or tribal lands.
“Today marks an important step in fulfilling President Biden’s commitments to Indian Country, by protecting Chaco Canyon, a sacred place that holds deep meaning for the Indigenous peoples whose ancestors have called this place home since time immemorial,” Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.
Haaland, a New Mexican who is the nation’s first Native American cabinet secretary, is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna tribe. New Mexico’s Congressional delegation introduced a bill this year that would go a step further than the Interior order by permanently protecting the region.
Oil and gas industry groups have opposed withdrawing the lands around Chaco for leasing.
In addition, the Navajo Nation withdrew its support for the plan last month, saying its members could lose potential income tied to those resources.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management last year estimated that protecting the lands would result in the long-term loss to the federal government of $4.8 million a year in royalties. It also said about 49 jobs would not be created.
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