Message #286: From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG To: "'Matthias Giessler'" Subject: Helpful Vistor Syndrome And Worse Date: Tue, 29 Jul 1997 19:22:52 -0700 Natural formations acessible, vulnerable FORT BENTON, Mont. - Fifty-six miles down the Missouri River from this shove-off point for rafters, the destruction this summer of a famed natural stone arch hit federal land managers with a sledgehammer message: Even landmarks as sacred as the Eye of the Needle aren't safe from mindless vandals. With the summer vacation season in full swing, more alarms are going off as unprecedented numbers of adventurers and tourists flock to the USA's recreational lands and national parks, especially here in the West. Federal rangers and archaeologists are seeing a steady assault on some of the nation's most valuable scenic, historic and prehistoric treasures. It includes both deliberate theft and unintended damage. In Arizona's Petrified Forest National Park, tourists filch 12 tons of fossilized wood a year. At Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park, some visitors still toss coins and junk into the park's delicate, temperamental geothermal springs, despite repeated warnings. In Utah and Arizona's Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, vandals scrawled obscenities this year on petroglyphs, the rock carvings that ancient native peoples left behind. Overall, vandalism in the national parks continues to creep higher, from 3,570 incidents in 1991 to 4,356 last year. Other transgressions include archaeological sites unknowingly trampled or intentionally plundered, Civil War battlefield markers broken or stolen and rare reptiles, plants and even butterflies poached for black-market sale. "It's a wake-up call," Marilyn Nickels of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) says of the Eye of the Needle destruction. The agency's 268 million acres of public land include the north-central Montana bluff where unknown culprits pushed the Eye of the Needle, a fragile, 11-foot sandstone arch, over a riverside cliff during the Memorial Day weekend. "The fact that people were so surprised by the Eye of the Needle incident tells you that people assumed these places that were fairly remote were well-protected," Nickels adds. Remote? Not when the market is booming for four-wheel-drive sport and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) that can take recreationists farther and faster into once-deserted backcountry where many natural and archaeological treasures lie. Well-protected? Not when deep budget cuts for the federal government's principal land agencies - the National Park Service, BLM and the U.S. Forest Service - have left woefully thin staffs to patrol hundreds of millions of acres. Visits to the BLM's public lands jumped from 51 million in 1994 to 59 million last year. Besides land-use responsibilities, BLM must try to protect 4 million to 5 million archaeological sites and properties. The Park Service, meanwhile, has 166% more acreage to manage than in 1979, while the ranks of its law-enforcement rangers have shrunk 17%. Not surprisingly, more vandals and thieves go free than are caught and prosecuted. All three agencies say that most recreational visitors are responsible, careful and ethical. But sheer numbers, plus a few troublemakers, can be disastrous for delicate sites. "I think most of the folks mean well," says Art Hutchinson, superintendent of Hovenweep National Monument, a loose cluster of prehistoric Indian sites in the Four Corners borderlands of Colorado and Utah. "They just have no idea that every time someone looks under a rock or takes home a few potsherds (pieces of broken pottery), that place is changed. Mostly, it's people kind of loving it to death." Easier access in four-wheel drives and ATVs is one reason. "More and more people are finding the backroads," says Hutchinson, who last week saw workers finish paving the last stretch of dirt road between Hovenweep monument and Cortez, Colo., the nearest town. But well before that, the Park Service asked the American Automobile Association to remove the names of several Hovenweep ruins from the club's popular "Indian Country" travel map to ease the growing visitor pressure. Range of damage extensive Across the West, the crimes and misdemeanors are as varied and numerous as the natural and cultural wonders they violate: Geology. At Petrified Forest, researchers are studying how and why tourists persist in pilfering hunks of 208 million-year-old tree fossils when numerous signs and park staffers repeatedly tell them it's prohibited. Still more signs confront them a mile before the park exit, warning that cars are subject to inspection. Enough visitors toss their petrified souvenirs out their windows that staffers gather as much as 100 pounds of castoff rock a month from the roadside. At New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns, self-guided tours were suspended in popular King's Palace cave because too many tourists were breaking off pieces of cave formations for souvenirs. Archaeology. In southwestern Colorado's rich artifact belt, vandals in late 1995 dismantled and toppled into a canyon most of a 2-story, 700-year-old stone tower built by Indian villagers at the BLM's "Cannonball" village site. "They didn't take anything. They just tore it down and left," laments agency archaeologist Kristie Arrington. Worse, ATV users returned this spring and carved three new motor trails through the fragile landscape surrounding the once-isolated site, inviting more invasions. In northeastern Utah, gang members from the town of Vernal recently spray-painted gang signs and obscenities on a popular petroglyph. And authorities did catch the thieves who stole a 1,500-year-old infant mummy from its burial place in a rock crevice. Vegetation. In Washington's Olympic National Park, poachers steal ferns and mosses. In Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains, thieves dig up orchids, trees, shrubs and medicinal roots. At Oregon's Crater Lake, armed poachers compete for mushrooms that sell for hundreds of dollars a pound in Japan. And in Arizona's Saguaro National Park near Tucson, rustlers with chainsaws steal dead saguaro cactuses whose woody skeletons are prized by landscapers and furniture makers. They are easier to swipe than live saguaros, whose massive bulk and roots make digging up and transplanting a much bigger job. The value of saguaro skeletons on the black market has doubled in three years to $2,000 or more. The live ones are still vandalism targets, says chief ranger Paula Nasiatka: "It's very common to find people target-shooting at the saguaros. And someone actually put explosives inside a saguaro and blew it up." Wildlife. Besides illegal hunters who kill big-game animals out of season, black marketeers steal rare reptiles from public lands for a thriving illicit pet trade. Gila monster lizards fetch $4,000 in Europe. Twin-spotted rattlesnakes can bring $5,000. General vandalism. In central Wyoming, someone uprooted newly installed BLM mileposts on the Mormon Pioneer Historic Trail, just days before a wagon train celebrating the route's 150th anniversary passed through this summer. River rafters in Colorado's Dinosaur National Monument break into re-creations of ancient tribal sites, even after rangers tell them that archaeologists long ago excavated the sites. Some of the nature wreckers are greedy pros, like the poachers of animals and cactuses. Some are amateurs who can't resist taking fossil or pottery souvenirs. A few are senseless vandals. Many just blunder around But the majority aren't plunderers, they're blunderers. Despite public education campaigns, they may not realize they're trampling fragile landscapes or destroying archaeological clues. Nancy Coulam, archaeologist at southeastern Utah's Canyonlands and Arches national parks, says the blunderers often have "helpful-visitor syndrome." Tourists pick up potsherds or arrowheads at a Southwest Indian site and pile them on a rock for others to view. But moving the pieces wipes out the field context that scientists need to solve the site's mysteries. Coulam says some even pile more stones on broken walls to "improve" ancient ruins. Although Coulam can understand such behavior as benign ignorance, she and other archaeologists have no sympathy for those who trash the petroglyphs and painted pictographs that make the Western outback an outdoor gallery of primitive rock art. This year, Coulam helped win guilty pleas from two Colorado college students who defaced petroglyphs during a spring-break camp-out last March at Canyonlands' popular Peekaboo formation. Besides paying repair costs, they'll do community service - cleaning urban graffiti. "You'd never go to the Louvre in France and pick away at the Mona Lisa," says Hutchinson at Hovenweep National Monument. "Somewhere down the road, we need to look at these sites as American art treasures and not the place for a jungle gym." By Patrick O'Driscoll, USA TODAY PHOTO: National Park Service workers replace piece of wall knocked over by vandals at Kingsly Plantation on Ft. George Island, Florida on May 7, 1997 (AP file). PHOTO: Pottery shards taken from Chaco Culture National Historic Park in New Mexico by a tourist (Tim Dillon, USA TODAY).