The West is hard at work, destroying its past

  • Petroglyphs on Navajo Reservation

    Richard Weston/Grand Canyon Trust
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, Who speaks for the Colorado Plateau?

The Colorado Plateau is internationally famous for its canyons and spectacular natural beauty, but it also contains the largest concentration of prehistoric ruins, rock art and artifacts in the world.

Those traces of its past are being lost, looted and vandalized at an alarming rate. That is the conclusion of Grand Canyon Trust staffer Rick Moore, who spent a year researching the state of cultural resources on the Plateau. He found law enforcement so ineffective that more than 22,000 sites have been looted. Despite clear legal mandates, the first felony conviction wasn't obtained until 1992.

Documented cases include boaters on Lake Powell who ripped the roof beams out of a small ruin tucked into a sandstone alcove, then used the beams for firewood; vandals who sprayed names over ancient Hopi clan petroglyphs along the Salt Trail; looters at a small pueblo on state land who used an Arizona sign explaining the penalties for damaging archaeological resources as their shovel; and a student on a college field trip who dug up a human skull from an Anasazi burial, then, with the professor's knowledge, took the skull back to campus. Acting on a tip from an outraged classmate, federal agents recovered the skull and successfully prosecuted the college, the professor and the student.

The region's heritage is threatened also by mining, grazing, dam and road construction, and by an enormous increase in the visitors to archaeological sites, Moore says.

The Bureau of Land Management reported 2,185 properties eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, but not one has been registered, Moore says, due to lack of time and money.

Similarly, although the Park Service estimates it has 15.5 million uncatalogued artifacts, it has never budgeted the $20 million it would take to catalog and curate them. Moore believes the agencies on the Plateau are running out of time: In 1992, more than 30 million visited the Plateau's national parks - up from 15 million in 1980. He writes that the Southwest faces the same situation encountered in China and England, where the Ming tombs and Stonehenge have had to be closed to protect them.

The Trust's report, Preserving Traces of the Past: Protecting the Colorado Plateau's Archaeological Heritage, concludes that federal agencies have the laws to protect cultural resources but lack the mandate and the money to enforce them.

In southern Utah, for example, one archaeologist has responsibility for 2 million acres. Vandals who hacked up a kachina panel on the San Juan River could have been arrested and prosecuted, believes archaeologist Dale Davidson of the Monticello office. They were not. With only six BLM agents working throughout the state to deal with law-breakers of every stripe, none could spare the time to press the case in coordination with the FBI.

A copy of the 150-page report is available from the Grand Canyon Trust, P.O. Box 30848, Flagstaff, AZ 86003-9962. Include $5 for mailing costs.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • FEATURES DIRECTOR - HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Features Director to join our editorial...
  • GENERAL MANAGER
    The Board of UYWCD seeks a new GM to manage operations & to implement our robust strategic plan. Details at www.upperyampawater.com. EOE
  • IN TUCSON, FOR SALE: A BEAUTIFUL, CLASSIC MID-CENTURY MODERN HOME
    designed by architect David Swanson in 1966. Located a block from Saguaro National Forest, yet minutes to Downtown and the UofA campus, 3706 sqft, 6...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of the San Juans is seeking a new leader guide our efforts to protect and restore the San Juan Islands and the Salish...
  • 80 ACRES
    straddles North Platte Fishery, Wyoming. Legal access 2 miles off 1-80. Call 720-440-7633.
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...