August 2011 Update

There are encouraging developments in the attempt to preserve and protect Chaco Culture National Historical Park; unfortunately, there are also many negative and perplexing questions about the park’s management and its overall vision. On the positive side, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has declared the Greater Chaco Landscape as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places in 2011because of energy development. This listing will continue to focus attention on the fragile nature of the Chacoan landscape (and its viewshed), and hopefully will encourage more interaction and cooperation by the BLM with the Hopi Tribe and with preservation groups like the Chaco Alliance, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the San Juan Citizens Alliance (see August 2011 letter to BLM below). Also positive is the news that it appears that San Juan County will compromise and accept gravel, not chip-seal, on CR 7950, the main entry road to the park. The Federal Highway Administration has recommended this choice. We have as yet seen no written documentation for this, but our contacts tell us that the Environmental Assessment now underway for CR 7950 will choose gravel as the preferred alternative. We have always supported gravel as a way of improving the road, and we continue to believe it will not have a significant impact on visitation.
One would expect the political climate at the park to reflect in part these good omens. Instead, the park continues to work on a General Management Plan Amendment Environmental Assessment (EA) that we are told calls for radical changes in the managing of visitors to Chaco (mandatory visitor education, gated car-wash like entry to the loop, and severe group visit limits, to name a few). The proposed changes are predicated on a potential increase in visitation that does not appear to in any way to be probable. In fact, the park is already shutting down access to many sites by roping off areas in the campground and on the trails that have previously been accessible. The nature of the visitor experience is being impacted although there is significant disagreement within the staff about whether the changes are in fact necessary. In addition, a shiny new water tank sits on top of the mesa above the new Visitor Center construction. It can be seen from as far away as Pueblo Alto and from many other areas of the canyon. The oddly painted eyesore is just hundreds of feet above the administration offices of the park. How is it possible that the Hopi Tribe, Chaco Alliance, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation continue to work to stop the ruining of the viewshed around the park, but the management of the park cannot protect the cultural resource in its own backyard? And the costly paperwork of the revised management plan undertaken by the park, and its regional office in Denver, is fixing a problem that doesn’t exist. Perhaps it is time for all work to stop on the General Management Plan Amendment Environmental Assessment, and on the on-going changes within the park, until an outside (non-NPS) entity can access what is truly necessary if Chaco is to be properly protected.
Please review the letter from the Chaco Alliance, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the San Juan Citizens Alliance asking that the viewshed within five miles of Pueblo Pintado be protected from oil and gas development (The park signed off on this 480 acre oil and gas lease nomination without opposition. See Pueblo Pintado Leases below). Also note our response to the Evans and Associates document that continues to be used in the General Management Plan Amendment EA although it is factually incorrect (The park reviewed and accepted this $18,000 NPS study. See Chaco Alliance Response to 2009 NPS Visitation Study). Also note the denial of conflict of interest letter from the URS Corporation, the consultant on the Chaco road CR7950 project and, unbeknownst to many of the staff at Chaco, the consultant on at least part of the major Visitor Center construction (See URS Denial Of Conflict of Interest below). Please email Barbara West, Superintendent, and ask that the new water tank be reduced in height, repainted, and moved out of eyesight. It is an act of unacceptable vandalism. Ask that all work on the General Management Plan Amendment EA be halted until the staff has taken into account the very low probability that visitation will substantially increase (the purpose and need for the amendment). Also ask that all new restrictive measures within the park be revoked until a proper review of all actions that impact visitor experience is undertaken. It is our understanding that all changes that affect visitor experience, or the landscape and historic fabric of the canyon, must be reviewed by the New Mexico Historic Preservation Office for proper compliance with the National Environmental Protection Act and the National Historical Protection Act. We are in the process of determining whether this compliance has been met. Please encourage the park management to work for consensus decision-making that solicits and values the opinions from all divisions within the park as well as from concerned groups outside the park. Thanks again for all your support.
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