Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
President Clinton today signed a proclamation creating the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwest Colorado. The 164,000-acre monument contains the highest known density of archeological sites anywhere in the United States, with rich, well-preserved remnants of native cultures going back thousands of years.
A Treasure Trove of Ancient Culture. The new monument is located in the Four Corners region, about 45 miles west of Durango and 9 miles west of Mesa Verde National Park. Occupation of this area by hunters and gatherers likely began over 10,000 years ago. Farming in the area blossomed between 450 and 1300 A.D., when the area was occupied by Ancestral Northern Pueblo People. Year-round villages were established, evolving from pit house dwellings to the cliff-dwelling pueblos.
The archeological record etched into this landscape is much more than isolated islands of architecture. The more than 20,000 archeological sites reflect all the physical components of past human life: villages, field houses, check dams, reservoirs, great kivas, cliff dwellings, shrines, sacred springs, agricultural fields, petroglyphs, and sweat lodges. Some of the area has more than 100 sites per square mile. Because of the remoteness of the area and the protection efforts of both the Bureau of Land Management and the local community, the integrity of most of these sites has been maintained. The growth of population and tourism in the Four Corners area will increasingly threaten these resources with vandalism and other types of degradation, making additional protections necessary.
Managing the New Monument. The Bureau of Land Management designated the area as the Anasazi Area of Critical Environmental Concern in 1985. Because the vast majority of the federal lands within the monument have already been leased for oil and gas (including carbon dioxide) and development already is occurring, the lands will remain open to oil and gas leasing and development. Development will be managed, subject to valid existing rights, so as not to create any new impacts that would interfere with the proper care and management of the objects protected by the designation. New leases will be allowed only for the purpose of promoting conservation of oil and gas in reservoirs now being produced under existing leases or to protect against drainage. Finally, the rights of Indian Tribes will not be affected.
History and Process. Public discussions regarding protection of this area date back to 1894 when the Salt Lake Times ran a story detailing interest in protecting the region. In 1979, a bill was introduced in Congress to designate the area a National Conservation Area. In the spring of 1999, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt began a dialogue with the local communities concerning proper management and protection of the area. The local Resource Advisory Council held five public meetings, consulted with local governments, and forwarded management recommendations to the Secretary in August 1999. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell introduced new National Conservation Area legislation in February 2000 (S. 2034), but he suspended all action on his bill on March 23, 2000. Secretary Babbitt recommended to the President last month that the area be designated as a National Monument.
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