SOURCE: AP

DATE: January 31, 2019

SNIP: U.S. land managers will move forward in March with the sale of oil and gas leases that include land near Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico and other areas sacred to Native American tribes.

The sale comes as Democratic members of Congress, tribal leaders and environmentalists have criticized the federal Bureau of Land Management for pushing ahead with drilling permit reviews and preparations for energy leases despite the recent government shutdown.

Depending on the outcome of the protests, it’s possible for the agency to put off or withdraw nine parcels of land that are within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of Chaco, a world heritage site with massive stone structures, kivas and other features that archaeologists believe offered a religious or ritualistic experience.

Accessible only by rough dirt roads, Chaco takes effort to reach, and supporters say they want to protect the sense of remoteness that comes with making the journey. For tribes, the fight is centered on preserving what remains of a ceremonial and economic hub that dates back centuries.

In all, more than 50 parcels in New Mexico and Oklahoma will be up for bid.

The battle over energy development around Chaco, which is bordered by the Navajo Nation and a checkboard of state and federal land, has been simmering for years. Government officials visited the region In 2015 in hopes of brokering a way forward for the tribes and energy companies.

The nine parcels near the park are on the outer edge of the informal buffer zone, but critics say it’s possible oil equipment could be visible from some places in the park if those areas were leased. Whether the hum of the equipment could be heard would depend on the direction of the wind. There are also concerns about light pollution affecting Chaco’s revered night sky.