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Know the West

Three decades of BLM inaction

  Poor Lynell Schalk: I share her frustration. In 1979, I was a seasonal Grand Gulch ranger when Turkey Pen Ruin was being systematically looted. At the time, nobody knew who was doing it, and my repeated reports to the BLM Monticello office went unheeded, even after I pulled a hidden shovel out of the ruin’s granary and dumped it on the BLM conference room table. The BLM archaeologist in Moab did take it, however, saying it would be good in his vehicle should it get stuck. So much for the fingerprints that I’d carefully attempted to preserve.

I didn’t know it at the time, but an archaeologist working under Bill Lipe, then a professor at Washington State University, had also visited the site. He reported this vandalism to Dr. Lipe, who in turn reported it to the late Sen. Henry Jackson. There was a formal congressional inquiry, resulting in a real investigation and two arrests — the first made under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.

Of course, everybody at BLM Monticello knew I was heading off to graduate school at Washington State that autumn to study under Dr. Lipe, and naturally assumed I spilled the beans. In truth, I never mentioned it to the guy. Still, I took full blame and the brunt of BLM’s anger. Other BLM rangers later told me the problem from upper management’s point of view was not the looting, but rather that their inaction was exposed and made into a public embarrassment. Nearly 30 years later, nothing’s changed.

Bill Haase
Gales Ferry, Connecticut