Looters sneak into monument

  President Clinton established the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument in southwestern Colorado to protect an estimated 20,000 archaeological sites, ranging from scattered potsherds to intact cliff dwellings (HCN, 4/23/01: Monuments caught in the crosshairs). Monument officials, however, are having a hard time fending off looters and vandals.

Since the monument was created in June 2000, eight incidents of pothunting and numerous episodes of vandalism have been reported in the rugged, 164,000-acre area. Monument signs are frequently torn or shot up, and graffiti was recently spray-painted on a trailhead bulletin board, sandstone walls and a nearby road. Partiers pulled apart a stone wall in a cliff dwelling to make seats, and built a campfire within a room.

It’s difficult to say whether the area’s high-visibility monument status has attracted more lawbreakers, says monument manager LouAnn Jacobson. Over 40 volunteers now patrol the area under a new site-stewardship program, so crime reporting has increased, she says: “I suspect we’ve always had this level of stuff going on and we just hadn’t known about it.” Jacobson says the troubled economy may have prompted some recent looting. “One theory is that, when times are hard, the incidences of pothunting go up, because people are trying to supplement their income.”

Monument archaeologist Laura Kochanski says education is the key to reducing crime — especially since the area has only one full-time law-enforcement ranger. So far, no arrests have been made.
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