The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is moving forward with the sale of land in the vicinity of New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The land, which is considered sacred ground by Native Americans in the area, was approved amid heavy criticism from environmentalists and tribal leaders.

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The land is being purchased to pursue the development of oil and gas, with around 50 parcels of land up for grabs. One of the biggest issues surrounding the sale is that it was approved while the government was partially shutdown, which resulted in limited access of information.

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According to AP News, critics claim that government officials failed to properly inform everyone on the sale of the property. They also asked if the BLM had enough staff members on hand to properly analyze the land and sale requests. In fact, Senator Tom Udall issued a scathing report on the land sale and called out the BLM for not being transparent throughout the process.

“It’s a mistake that while critical public services were shuttered for 35 days during the government shutdown, BLM still moved forward with this opaque process,” Udall shared.

Critics of the sacred land sale also wondered if the BLM will open a protest period, which is usually standard in these types of transactions. Fortunately, the agency has opted to delay the sale to give tribal leaders and environmentalists a few weeks to protest. The BLM is officially accepting protests beginning on February 11. The land sale is expected to go through at the end of March.

If the protests are successful, a portion of the land that is up for sale will be withdrawn. Supporters are hoping that land within 10 miles around Chaco will be deemed off limits. This area, which would serve as a buffer zone, would help protect features that are sacred to local tribes, including kivas and stone structures.

Chaco is currently inaccessible by paved roads. Local tribes hope to preserve the remoteness of the area, which has served as a religious and economic center for centuries.

The BLM has not issued any comments about the land sale.

Via AP News

Image via Zenhaus