February 11, 2011
From the air it’s a patchwork of oil rigs, roads and broad mesas. Antelope run swiftly across the valley floors filled with sage and juniper. The arroyos are mostly dry, the night skies filled with stars. It is northwest New Mexico, a broad slice of the Colorado Plateau and the traditional lands of the Navajo, which have in recent times become the domain of the oil and gas industry.
Today, amongst this mix of land and culture there remains fifteen iconic public land parcels covering more than 120,000 acres that are filled with hoodoos, petrified logs, ruins and fossils. Wild lands that are twisted and distorted in shapes, carved by wind and rains, and colored by their vibrant mineral content. It is also a land rich in paleontological and archeological resources. They are truly New Mexico’s Badlands. Lands that inspire our sense of the West, but that are threatened by coal, uranium, oil, gas and illegal wood-cutting.
In addition, the American treasure known as Chaco Culture National Historical Park is located in the heart of this region and remains under constant threat of oil and gas development on its borders, degrading and damaging this world heritage site. These areas deserve long-term protection, along with long-term sustainable development for neighboring communities and the Navajo Nation.
The San Juan Basin Badlands and Chaco Culture National Historical Park proposals we are promoting offer significant scenic and recreational resources. They take in landscapes such as Ah-Shi-She-Pah Wilderness Study Area (WSA)– truly an intriguing landscape of wild formations and a lunar-like surface. At higher elevation, the sprawling sculpture parks composed of rim rock and mesa badlands are filled with multicolored buttes and fossil-filled canyon labyrinths.
Areas like Lybrook, Crow Mesa, San José, Mesa de Cuba, Mesa Chijuilla, Penistaja Mesa, Ceja Pelón Mesa, Cejita Blanca and La Ventana-Elk Springs showcase the beauty of the San Juan Basin Badlands. With cliff-hanging bonsai ponderosa, character-laden old juniper and the largest petrified wood concentration anywhere in New Mexico, the San Juan Basin Badlands are a unique phenomenon that should be protected from the surrounding industrial development. These are important islands of biodiversity which rise above surrounding grasslands and act as key wildlife corridors, and refuges for native high desert vegetation and wildlife.
Two hundred million years of action-packed paleo-history unfold in eighteen chronological sedimentary layers. Thenearby Bisti –De-Na-Zin Wilderness alone has produced over 200 Cretacous fossil plants and animal species. Initial paleontological finds here in the early 1980’s spurred the establishment of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History. Several other Badlands such as Cejita Blanca and Ceja Pelon include internationally renowned Paleocene and Eocene mammal fossil research areas.
More well known as a World Heritage Site, Chaco Culture National Historical Park rests in the center of this region. Although Chaco is currently protected as a park, oil and gas development has been proposed on the boundaries of the park. With over 20,000 acres of eligible wilderness within the park and several surveying errors that leave several important archeological sites unprotected, the threats to Chaco cannot be ignored.
Despite a massive influx of oil and gas development, the heart of this region is wild and beautiful country in need of protection. Our goal remains the Congressional protection of these lands. Currently, many of these areas are being squandered for wood cutting and being compromised because of lack of enforcement. Our goals with the San Juan Basin Badlands and Chaco proposals are to protect some of the key landscapes as Wilderness, create a National Monument, and add others to the important National Landscape Conservation System.
To succeed, we must build a coalition of groups—sportsmen, Native Americans, Latinos, conservationists, and scientists. We plan to work directly in the nearby community of Cuba that reflects the cultural influence of the region and uses much of the nearby landscape for wood harvesting.Our vision working with local communities is to raise the profile of these beautiful areas and work with the New Mexico Department of Tourism to expand the potential for eco-tourism and long-term sustainable development surrounding public lands.
The lands that form the New Mexico portion of the Colorado Plateau deserve protection. We must preserve this landscape while helping support communities whose past and future is connected to these special islands of life.