Ah-shi-sle-pah - Trail of the Ancients from Bold Visions Conservation on Vimeo.
We’re Preserving New Mexico’s Prehistoric Wildness
Chaco Culture National Historic Park (Chaco Canyon,) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, much like a high desert Machu Picchu; an ancient and iconic land of spirit and of spectacular, sacred ruins. But Chaco is being threatened by oil, gas and coal, at a time when the world is asking us to move beyond fossil fuels. As industry flexes all the muscles it can muster, we must remain vigilant and not just protect, but expand this piece of our past and make it vital into the future.
In America’s Colorado Basin, the northwest quadrant of New Mexico is one of most unique and stunning landscapes on planet earth. Known by its Navajo name, Ah-shi-sle-pah, is surrounded with historic and cultural nonpareil: petrified forests, dinosaur fossils and ancient Native American ruins and artifacts. This was a Cretaceous Amazon and the evidence lies scattered to remind you. Sandstone hoodoos rise above this landscape like giant, fossilized mushrooms. One is left to feel they have been transported to another planet, or stepped into the realm of faeries, yet all of this lies less than a mile from the borders of Chaco Canyon.
The area has been a Wilderness Study Area (WSA) since 1980; in the late 1970’s, much of the area was leased for coal. Now, more than forty years later, some coal leases remain. In addition, the area is plastered with more than 22,000 oil and gas wells, meaning wildness and wildlife have been impacted.
On August 18, 2015, a federal judge denied an injunction to stop fracking on Chaco’s border, highlighting the urgency to protect these remaining wild lands. Given the current state of global climate change, we are working to have the President use his executive authority to cancel the leases rather than transfer our coal issue to another state as originally proposed. This has been done historically in places such as Bristol Bay (oil leases,) Yellowstone (New World Mine) and the Grand Canyon (uranium leases.) If Trail of the Ancients is not protected, a coal company plans to strip-mine the area. The coal would be transported to the Four Corners Power Plant, continuing to despoil the air and health of those living on Navajo lands and in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona.
This area of the WSA is close to 7,000 acres, and our National Conservation Area (NCA) proposal would protect over 39,000 acres of lands that are rich in beauty and renowned for its extraordinary paleontology resources, which include new scientific discoveries.
Ah-shi-sle-pah‘s unique landscape is filled with petrified wood, mystical hoodoos and rock formations that defy imagination. The area surrounding this WSA is becoming congested with oil and gas development; this land represents an important buffer for Chaco Canyon. These landscapes combine to make it a truly prehistoric glimpse into our past.
We propose the protection of a corridor of lands surrounding the northern and western borders of Chaco Canyon, the creation of a new national Conservation Area that would go as far as the Bisti Badlands, through the Fossil Forest and in total add more than 70,000 acres of protected lands to the Chaco-Bisti region. It would also halt the rampant destruction from extractive industries and protect the Navajo people on adjacent lands from the pollution caused by oil and gas and coal mining activities.
Accomplishments to date
We have gained a Senate Memorial and a House letter of support in the New Mexico State Legislature, with unanimous Democratic support. In addition, we have met with our Congressional delegation in Washington and with Bureau of Land Management personal in New Mexico and Washington. Finally, we have met with Chaco Canyon Superintendent Larry Turk and NPS officials, with a plan to make our Trail of the Ancients proposal become part of an expansion of Chaco Canyon, thus marketing the Chaco name as a means of fighting off oil and gas development. This would require co-management of the lands, something which has precedent in our state.
We have created a dynamic website that features this campaign designed to educate the public and elected officials and we have gone to the area and filmed. We now feature our own video of the area and will continue to film in all seasons. We have a letter of support from the International Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Bold Visions Conservation is working directly with the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and with the Paleontology community to protect this area. We have educated our elected officials in Washington and gained the support of the local state Senator and Representative of the area. Our goal now is to do organizing work on the Navajo reservation to ensure that this area is not strip-mined for coal. We also look to gain the support of other local and national conservation groups, and to work with the White House Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) to help move the President towards an Executive Action.
The creation of a protected corridor is essential; it also sends a message about the priorities of our public lands and the need to move away from fossil fuel development in the West. With two strong Senators and a very supportive Congressman, New Mexico remains in an enviable position to gain support for a wilderness bill.
No wilderness legislation occurs overnight, however with its relatively small size and strategic location, and its extraordinary beauty, Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah could become New Mexico’s newest wilderness area.
Goals and Objectives
To educate elected officials, the Navajo tribe and the public on the importance of this area and create a strong coalition to garner the support for a legislative solution that would give permanent protection to Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah:
• Develop a working coalition of ethnically diverse groups to support protection.
• Work directly with the Navajo Tribe.
• Continue to educate the public about moving away from fossil fuels.
• Educate the tribe directly about the impacts of coal development and the associated health risks.
• Create a ‘Friends of Trail of the Ancients’ group that is independent and supportive.
• Begin presentations to civic groups about protection of this resource.
• Develop brochures and materials that support our position.
• Engage the Art Community in projects that show the beauty and diversity to paint “en plein air” (in open air) this landscape.
• Lead field trips and Service projects in the area and monitor drilling leases.
• Work with Commissioner of State Lands to ensure expanded protections for state lands outside boundary.
Evaluation and Outcomes
No wilderness protection occurs overnight. It takes time to gain the support and trust of the varied groups involved. Working on the Reservation also requires special understanding of the culture and the building of trust. We have experience in this from our many years in New Mexico. Congress has shown little appetite for land protection in recent years. Our progressive Senators and the Congressman in this area have a proven track record of supporting landscape protection.
We see a three year process to gain passage of legislation, but that will require:
1. A stable and growing funding stream not just for us, but for the coalition to find success. We will work towards creation of a broader budget that allows for groups to play pivotal roles based on strength and experience.
2. Multimedia and Social Media: The growth and expansion of our capability in this area will only help to educate the public and get them directly engaged in its protection. Having a multimedia stream where daily you can provide new photos or memes about a region and the rich history of the area is a great way to raise consciousness on wilderness issues.
3. Political support: We should see additional letters of support, proclamations, scientific support that will help our delegation to show the “will of the people” to help advance their legislative agenda.
4. The support and interaction of the Navajo nation. Our goal is to work with them to maintain co-management of the lands that could create this important National Conservation Area. Their support would be a major advancement in our conservation efforts.
5. The full development of a “Friends of” the Trial of the Ancients NCA group. This will take time, but their independence will create a unique voice for protection of the area and a longer-term presence for future management of the region.
Bold Visions Conservation is dedicated to protecting wilderness and wildlife. We are also committed to working with youth to make them apart of the lands and waters they will inherit. Our history and that fiscal sponsor the Center of Southwest Culture have a history of direct involvement with the Native American and Spanish Land Grant Communities. Gaining protections for this area is both conceivable and important in a landscape being overrun with energy development. We see this in terms of a three-year project which will result in wilderness designation.
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