Lawmakers Take Action in Response to Mounting Damage to Western Conservation Lands
WASHINGTON, DC (July 11, 2006) -- A bi-partisan group of Congressional leaders is stepping up to protect some of the West’s premier conservation lands as concern mounts about damage to archeological sites and natural areas. The 15 legislators have formed a “caucus” to promote stronger protections for the National Landscape Conservation System, which was created in 2000 to protect the best lands and waters under the auspices of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
“I am pleased to be part of the formation of a bipartisan caucus that will focus on the National Landscape Conservation System,” said Congressman Raul Grijalva, who is co-chairing the caucus. “We have much work to do in raising awareness of the special places within the System, as well as bringing attention to the threats to these lands. The lack of protection of these lands is a great loss to Americans who use them and love them.”
A recent study prepared for the National Trust by Destry Jarvis, Cultural Resources on the Bureau of Land Management Public Lands: Assessment and Needs Analysis, reported that while BLM manages 261 million acres nationwide, only 6 percent, or one in every 16 acres, have been surveyed for cultural resources. Because BLM has more than 400 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Jarvis said a complete survey of all its lands could uncover an additional 68,000 sites eligible for listing on the National Register.
Isolated acts of vandalism on BLM lands, such as the recent spray painting of the prehistoric rock art panels in Colorado's McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, and routine acts of reckless off road vehicle use and “pot hunting” are robbing the nation of our cultural resources. According to a recent report from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, these threats are exacerbated by shortcomings in BLM funding and its ability to establish on-the-ground protection, particularly as BLM lands experience increased recreational use.
In one of the most dramatic incidents, looters excavated more than 47 plots of a large Ancestral Puebloan settlement in Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Although the prehistoric site had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1999, Canyons of the Ancients could not employ enough rangers to ensure its safety. “What’s worse,” said Jarvis, “is that since most of the lands have not been fully inventoried, we often don’t even know what was stolen.”
"Vandalism and pot hunting on public lands are burglaries committed against American history and thefts from the American people,” said Karl Kumli, a board member of Colorado’s Crow Canyon Archaeological Center. “We have to get out the word that this is our shared heritage that is being damaged."
BLM’s funding shortcomings also reveal themselves in an inability to limit impacts from illegal off-road vehicle use. According to Mary Jo Miller, president of the Arizona Wildlife Federation, off-road vehicle use damages fragile soils and streambeds in Arizona’s NLCS units. “We have laws against illegal off-road vehicle use,” said Miller. “What we don’t have is sufficient resources to put people on the ground to enforce those laws.”
National Landscape Conservation System Caucus as of July 11, 2006
Rep. Mary Bono (R-CA-45), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-7), Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ-1), Rep. James Moran (D-VA-8)
Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM-1); Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA-25); Rep. Sue Kelly (R-NY-19); Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ-8); Rep. Tom Udall (D-NM-3); Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ-6); Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA-23); Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO-1); Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI-2); Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY-22); Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ-12);
6 confirmed Republicans, 9 confirmed Democrats
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