Last week the Interior Department (DOI) took a major step forward in its land use planning process around Chaco Culture National Historic Park. On Thursday, the Department announced that the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) would join the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as a “co-lead” agency in drafting a management plan for oil and gas development in the area. BLM was previously the only agency involved in the decision-making process. By bringing BIA on board, Interior opens the door to a true, landscape-level plan to guide development across the complex checkerboard of tribal and federal lands in the region.
While this is an important step, the most important work still remains.
With both agencies now at the table, BLM and BIA must focus on developing solutions that recognize and maintain the integrity of the Greater Chaco landscape. This includes the undeveloped lands and network of ancient roads, villages, and shrines that surround Chaco Culture National Historical Park, as well as the communities now residing in the area. The agencies must also ensure that meaningful, government-to-government consultation with interested pueblos and tribes begins as soon as possible. And they must reach out to community members, as well as other key stakeholders, including the National Park Service and archaeologists, to ensure their perspectives are honored during the planning process.
By pursuing a joint-agency planning process, Interior has set the stage for a comprehensive plan to protect the Greater Chaco landscape and its local communities. Now we hope that, through robust stakeholder outreach and careful resource analysis, the agencies will draft a plan that will serve as an example of success for future collaborative, inter-agency planning.