The US has imposed a ban on issuing new oil and gas drilling leases within ten miles of the Chaco Culture National Historic Park in northwest New Mexico, which is claimed to be a region central to Pueblo ancestral heritage.

Intended to protect the area and a larger portion of federal land from drilling, the ban on new leasing of federal and public lands around Chaco by the US Interior Department will be effective for 20 years. It does not extend to minerals owned by private, state or tribal entities.

The Chaco Canyon, which is claimed to have been a major centre of ancestral Pueblo culture between 850 and 1250, has been listed as World Heritage site by the United Nations’ cultural agency, UNESCO.

US Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland said: “Efforts to protect the Chaco landscape have been ongoing for decades, as tribal communities have raised concerns about the impacts that new development would have on areas of deep cultural connection.

“This marks an important step in fulfilling President Biden’s commitments to Indian Country by protecting Chaco Canyon, a sacred place that holds deep meaning for the Indigenous peoples whose ancestors have called this place home since time immemorial.”

The proposal for protecting the area was initially announced by US President Joe Biden in November of 2021 as part of a wider plan to conserve as a minimum 30% of federal lands and waters by the end of this decade, reported Reuters.

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Following the latest decision, Greater Chaco Coalition members have urged the Biden administration to prohibit all new federal leasing of fossil fuel in the country.