We must protect the last unprotected areas of the Greater Chaco region

Public comment delivered by Ellen Montgomery to the Bureau of Land Management

Update: On June 7, 2023, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved a 20-year moratorium on drilling within a 10-mile “buffer zone” around Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Public Land Order No. 7923.

This article was originally published in 2022

On Friday, April 29, 2022, the Bureau of Land Management held a public hearing for members of the public to comment on a proposal to end new oil and gas leases in the Greater Chaco region.

The Biden administration is proposing to bar new federal oil and gas leasing for 20 years within a 10-mile radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, safeguarding some of the last acres of the Greater Chaco region that remain untouched by the fossil fuel industry. Currently, oil and gas companies hold leases on more than 90% of this key ecological and historical area.

Below is the comment I delivered at the public meeting on behalf of our members and supporters.

Members of the public can submit their own public comment until 5pm on Friday, May 6 using this link.


My name is Ellen Montgomery, I’m the public lands campaign director with Environment America, the national office of Environment New Mexico. I’m commenting in support of the proposed withdrawal.

Chaco Canyon is an amazing place for hiking, stargazing and exploring ancient pueblos that are more than a thousand years old. The area is culturally, historically, and biologically significant. Because the park is only one of two protected areas in the San Juan Basin, the protections are now a critical tool for biodiversity in the region– much of which has been disrupted by grazing and mineral and fossil fuel extraction. The area sustains a wide range of microclimates, which support diverse plant and animal species. Elk, bobcats, rabbits, porcupines, badgers, wild horses and more than 100 bird species call the canyons and woodlands home.

Fossil fuel exploration causes negative effects on the park and surrounding area. Fracking produces billions of gallons of waste, containing toxic pollutants. People living in the area have reported vibrations. Archeological and cultural artifacts, some still to be discovered, exist outside the boundaries of the park. And drilling disrupts the habitats of the countless species that live in and around the canyon by destroying sections of land, creating unnecessary noise, and bringing in people and equipment that take up space and pollute the air and water. We must protect the Greater Chaco area from future fossil fuel leases.

Over the past 5 years, our members and supporters have submitted letters to the editor, photo petitions and messages to decision-makers opposing plans to drill around the park.

And in 2020, our national network’s supporters submitted more than 11,000 public comments opposing the previous administration’s plans to frack Chaco. We have already seen them submit more during this current comment period. For the people of this place, past, present and future, we must protect the last unprotected areas of the Greater Chaco region.

Thank you.



Ellen Montgomery

Director, Public Lands Campaign, Environment America

Ellen runs campaigns to protect America's beautiful places, from local beachfronts to remote mountain peaks. Prior to her current role, Ellen worked as the organizing director for Environment America’s Climate Defenders campaign. Ellen lives in Denver, where she likes to hike in Colorado's mountains.