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US agency extends comment period on Chaco proposal

March 25, 2022 GMT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Land managers have scheduled two more public meetings and extended the comment period on a proposal that would prohibit oil and gas development on federal land surrounding a national park in New Mexico that Native American tribes consider culturally significant.

The Bureau of Land Management made the announcement Friday, saying the deadline for comments has been pushed back to May 6 to allow more time for people to comment.

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland traveled to northwest New Mexico in November to announce the plan. She cited the significance of the area to many tribes from the Southwest that trace their roots to the high desert outpost.

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A World Heritage site, Chaco is thought to be the center of what was once a hub of Indigenous civilization.

Officials with the New Mexico pueblos and Arizona tribes that are connected to Chaco have said they believe Haaland’s actions represent more meaningful steps by the federal government to permanently protect cultural resources in northwestern New Mexico.

The Navajo Nation is among the Native American tribes that support increased protections, but top tribal officials have called for a smaller area around Chaco to be set aside as a way to limit the economic impact on families who rely on revenues from oil and gas leasing.

Many who attended the first public meetings in February had asked that federal officials provide translators and materials in Native languages to ensure those who will be affected by the decision have access to information about the proposal.

Federal officials confirmed Friday that a Navajo translator would be available at the upcoming meetings. One will be April 27 in Farmington and the other is scheduled for April 29 in Albuquerque.