Written by LouAnn Jacobson
On Friday, November 13--an easy day for me to remember--the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Canyons of the Ancients National Monument acquired 4,573 acres. There are seven individual parcels: six are inholdings inside the monument boundaries and surrounded on all sides by BLM land; one is an edgeholding adjacent to the Monument boundary with BLM on three sides.
The family that owned the property listed it for sale in 2006 and it was to be sold at auction in late August 2009. The Conservation Fund--a not-for-profit organization committed to protecting America's working landscapes--negotiated a contract to purchase the property with the understanding that the BLM in turn would buy the land. Starting in 2006, the road toward purchase had a lot of twists and turns. It's amazing to me that last spring (2009) I was ready to give up and on November 13, I uncapped the yellow magic marker and colored in 4,573 acres that are now part of the Monument.
When we realized the acquisition might become a reality, literally dozens (46 and still counting) of people stepped up: staff at all levels of BLM and the Department of the Interior worked on funding, title reviews, the appraisal, inspections, and the myriad tasks required for the federal government to purchase private property; The Conservation Fund worked directly the seller's Realtor; and the National Trust for Historic Preservation put the project at the top of their preservation priority list and reinforced the significance of the property.
Why did BLM acquire the property? There are 25 currently-documented cultural sites and we predict there could be as many as 700, including one of the earliest documented sites in the southwestern United States. Documented by the Hayden survey and photographed by William Henry Jackson in 1874, this site helped bring Colorado archaeology to the attention of scholars and the general public more than a decade before the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde were discovered by Anglo ranchers. A second known site, first photographed in 1908, includes a tower with massive standing walls, a signature of Late Pueblo III Ancestral Puebloan sites. The property also include a one-of-a-kind Ancestral Puebloan solstice marker.
In addition, three of the parcels include riparian areas--a rare ecosystem in southwest Colorado. Purchasing these parcels presents an opportunity to reclaim and protect these riparian areas. Blocking up public land will help us improve rangeland health conditions and better manage the associated grazing allotments. The parcels are isolated and mostly roadless, providing panoramic vistas with deeply-incised canyons, sheer sandstone cliffs, and opportunities for solitude, bird watching, and hiking.
What's next? The BLM will complete comprehensive site records for the two known sites with standing architecture. This will establish baseline information on their condition and features (rooms, towers, kivas, plazas, etc.). We are also planning on completing a cultural resource inventory for three parcels (about 500 acres). The inventory will record all the cultural resource sites in these parcels and their current condition. This will help us identify what sites to include in our volunteer site stewards program and help us provide addition protection.
We will not be sending the public to these areas, at least not right away. Before sites are made available for the public, we must address criteria for determining suitability for developed public use. Questions include: Can visitor impacts be mitigated or is the site too fragile? Are Native American Tribes amenable to public use? Does the site offer new and/or unique public education opportunities? Can the sites be managed with current budgets and staff? Are visitors going there anyway?
If the answers to our questions are yes, there are further management actions and analyses that must be completed. Management actions include further tribal consultation; further site documentation such as completing site records, completing Historic American Building Survey records for standing architecture, and detailed surface mapping of features and artifacts; preparing a site condition and/or preservation assessment; preparing a cultural resource management plan and interpretation plan; ensuring compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act; and completing an environmental assessment to ensure compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act.
We will also be preparing restoration plans for the riparian areas and evaluating land health conditions to determine how best to manage the associated grazing allotments.
Acquiring the property was the result of the dedication and hard work of many individuals, but it was only the first phase for BLM. There's a lot of responsibility associated with an acquisition of this magnitude and importance. A whole new team of BLM staff, volunteers and partners--including the National Trust--will now ensure that the lands are cared for and managed appropriately as required by established federal laws and regulations and the Presidential Proclamation that established Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
LouAnn Jacobson is the manager of the Bureau of Land Management's Canyons of Ancients National Monument/Anasazi Heritage Center.
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