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Before tourists began visiting Chaco Canyon from around the world, it was a destination for ancestral people. Hannah Grover, hgrover@daily-times.com

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FARMINGTON — Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s visit to Chaco Culture National Historical Park provided a small victory to groups hoping to set aside a 10-mile buffer zone from oil and gas leasing surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

Bernhardt accompanied Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, and tribal leaders as they walked through Pueblo Bonito on May 28.

“I walked away with a greater sense of appreciation of the magnificent site managed by the National Park Service and a better understanding of the tribal leaders’ views of its cultural significance,” he said in a press release issued late that day.

He said he has directed the Bureau of Land Management to “promptly publish a draft Resource Management Plan that includes an alternative that reflects the tribal leaders’ views and the proposed legislative boundaries.”

Chaco Canyon visit: Interior Secretary David Bernhardt visits Chaco Canyon amid oil, gas development debate

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These legislative boundaries he referenced come from a bill co-sponsored by Heinrich that would codify a 10-mile buffer zone around Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

“We will take appropriate action to defer leasing within the 10-mile buffer during the next year,” Bernhardt said. “And we will respect the role of Congress under the property clause of the constitution to determine how particular lands held by the federal government should be managed.”

Legislation: Udall, Heinrich, Luján and Haaland call for permanent protections around Chaco Canyon

Bernhardt told The Daily Times on May 28 that his visit had changed his perspective about Chaco Canyon.

Heinrich said in the press release that the one year deferral on leasing will give the BLM time to draft the resource management plan and will give Congress time to vote on the Chaco Culture Heritage Area Protection Act. Heinrich and Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM, introduced the bill earlier this year in the U.S. Senate.

“While we plan for any future energy development in the San Juan Basin, protecting these sites is something we should all be able to agree on, and I’m optimistic about a productive path forward,” Heinrich said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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