SANTA FE, N.M. – New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard announced at a press conference today that she is extending her ban on new oil, gas and mineral leasing on 72,776 acres of state lands near Chaco Culture National Historical Park through December 31, 2043. In one of her first acts as Land Commissioner in 2019, Commissioner Garcia Richard placed a mortarium on oil, gas and mineral leasing on state lands near Chaco, which was originally set to expire at the end of this year. That order also established the Chaco Canyon Working Group to advise the agency on appropriate uses of state lands in the Greater Chaco region. U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland issued a similar leasing 20-year ban on federal lands surrounding Chaco in June of this year.
“The Greater Chaco landscape is one of the most special places in the world, and it would be foolish not to do everything in our power to protect it,” said Commissioner Garcia Richard. “This region is significant for our Indigenous communities and the cultural properties found in the area are irreplaceable. Action at both the federal and state level is necessary to ensure we are protecting these special resources. Simply put, there is too much at stake for widespread oil and gas development to occur so close to Chaco. I’m grateful for the advice of our working group so far to ensure we are managing the lands surrounding the park in a way that honors their cultural importance.”
“Today, is another historical day, a day that we have continue to pray for and work for to protect our sacred landscapes,” said Mark Mitchell, Chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors and former Governor of Tesuque Pueblo. “The Pueblos are living cultures. We rely on the land and her ecosystems to sustain our traditions. In particular, Chaco Canyon has been subject to unfettered oil and gas development for decades. We are deeply appreciative of State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard for reissuing Executive Order 2019-002, that will withdraw state lands and minerals within an approximate 10-mile radius surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park and its outliers. On behalf of APCG, we also acknowledge past and current tribal leadership for their work to ensure that the 2019 Executive order was extended. But our work is never done, we are thankful for this moment, but we pray that Chaco Canyon and the Greater Chaco Region will be permanently protected. The permanent protection is not only for us, but for those who have yet to be born so they may continue to know that our roots, our cultures, our languages are tied to this sacred and irreplaceable area.”
In December 2022, Commissioner Garcia Richard also implemented the agency’s first-ever Cultural Properties Protection Rule requiring cultural properties surveys to be conducted before ground disturbance can occur on state lands. Analysis by the Cultural Resources Office within the State Land Office suggests more than 80 percent of state lands in the Greater Chaco Region have still not been surveyed for cultural properties.
Commissioner of Public Lands Stephanie Garcia Richard has overseen the New Mexico State Land Office since 2019. In that time the agency has raised more than $8 billion for New Mexico public schools, hospitals, and universities. Over 13 million acres of state trust land are leased for a variety of uses, including ranching and farming, renewable energy, business development, mineral development, and outdoor recreation. The State Land Office has a dual mandate to use state trust land to financially support vital public institutions, while simultaneously working to protect the land for future generations.