Place:  Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Location:  New Mexico   

Person interviewed:  Tom Udall, New Mexico Senator

When did you first visit Chaco Canyon? What were your impressions? I visited Chaco Canyon several times as a teenager, during many family vacations across the southwest. Chaco was always a favorite stop of ours – it was fascinating to look at our history through the eyes of these early residents.

What does Chaco Canyon mean to you personally?  As a New Mexican, Chaco Canyon is near and dear to my heart – an iconic landscape that embodies our state’s storied heritage, our stunning natural beauty, and our unique way of life. And as the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I know how deeply meaningful the greater Chaco area is to the Tribes and Pueblos that trace their ancestry to Chaco and that consider the site sacred and a living part of their culture.

How does Chaco Canyon impact the local community and greater New Mexico?  The greater Chaco region is a New Mexico treasure— known around the world as the heart of a culture that inhabited the Four Corners area for hundreds of years. The land is sacred to many Pueblos and Tribes in the Four Corners and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987, only one of 23 sites in our nation. Every year, thousands of visitors come to Chaco Canyon to explore its magnificent landscapes and learn from its rich history.

Even though Tribes and the American public continue to speak out in overwhelming support of protecting this precious landscape – Chaco is being threatened by expanding energy development, including recently proposed leasing inside this long-standing buffer zone. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation with the New Mexico delegation to protect Chaco from development – because some places are just too special to lose.

How has Chaco Canyon benefitted from LWCF?  In New Mexico, LWCF has invested more than $312 million to protect public lands and open spaces – including over $500,000 in Chaco Canyon – increasing recreational opportunities and preserving our most iconic landscapes, history, and culture for future generations. These parks and open spaces support countless jobs, bolster local economies, and improve our quality of life.

Why is permanent funding of LWCF important to New Mexico? New Mexico’s $9.9 billion outdoor industry – which is built around places that have benefited from LWCF – is a significant economic driver in the state, supporting 99,000 jobs and $2.8 billion in wages. For the past half-century, the LWCF has created and supported parks like Valle de Oro and Petroglyph National Monument and conserved wild backcountry across the state.

I was proud to help carry on my father Stewart Udall’s legacy in fighting for permanent reauthorization of LWCF in this year’s public lands omnibus–a huge win for New Mexico. And as the top Democrat of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, I’ve been proud to secure major funding for LWCF over the past several years, even as the Trump administration has proposed eliminating the program. But now we need to make sure LWCF receives strong and permanent funding, for future generations. Each year, we collect more than $900 million for the LWCF but only spend a little less than half that amount. As a result, there is more than $20 billion in revenues that should have gone to our public lands infrastructure but is instead just sitting in a bank account doing nothing. We need to make sure those dollars go to where Congress intended: New Mexico and America’s public lands.