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
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • EVENTS AND ANNUAL FUND COORDINATOR
    The Events and Annual Fund Coordinator is responsible for managing and coordinating the Henry's Fork Foundation's fundraising events for growing the membership base, renewing and...
  • EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Position Description: The Education Director is the primary leader of Colorado Canyons Association's (CCA) education programs for students and adults on the land and rivers...
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...