Landscapes

Interior Department Calls a "Time Out" on Oil & Gas Leasing Near Nine Mile Canyon

Posted on: October 9th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Statement from Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation:

Ancient, fragile rock art and heavy, dust-churning truck traffic – it’s a formula for disaster, and it’s been a reality at Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon for much too long. But now, thanks to commendable efforts by Interior Secretary Salazar and his staff, there’s some good news: The Interior Department has called a “time-out” on oil and gas leasing on sensitive public lands near Nine Mile Canyon until “significant progress” is made in implementing dust-abatement procedures and ensuring the protection of the canyon’s irreplaceable cultural treasures.

Today’s report underscores what the National Trust and our partner organizations have always insisted: We don’t have to choose between meeting our energy needs and protecting our heritage. We can do both – but only if all the parties involved, from federal agencies to oil and gas companies – develop sensible regulations and abide by them. We can’t take Nine Mile Canyon off the endangered list yet, but today’s report represents a major step in the right direction.

Why is "significant progress" needed in dust abatement? Two National Trust staffers found out firsthand in April 2008.

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Federal Court Upholds Protections to Cultural and Natural Resources at Utah Monument

Posted on: September 4th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Ti Hays

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument: 1.7 million acres of "one of a kind." Photo courtesy of BLM.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (Map: BLM)

On Tuesday, a federal court of appeals in Denver ruled that vehicle routes in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument that are closed to protect cultural and natural resources will remain that way—at least until Kane County can prove that it, and not the federal government, owns them.

The dispute underlying the case began in 1999 when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) finalized a resource management plan for the Monument. In that plan, BLM closed several vehicle routes in order to protect the historic and scientific “objects of interest” identified in the Monument’s proclamation, including hundreds of “rock art panels, occupation sites, campsites and granaries,” as well as “many historic objects, including trails, inscriptions, ghost towns such as the Old Paria townsite, rock houses, and cowboy line camps. . . .”

Quite unhappy with the route closures, officials with Kane County entered the Monument in 2003 and removed about 30 BLM signs informing the public that certain routes had been closed to vehicles. Two years later, county officials again entered the Monument, this time posting over 100 signs declaring numerous routes to be “open” that BLM had closed in the management plan. Later that same year, Kane County fired yet another salvo at the Monument’s management plan when it passed an ordinance authorizing vehicle use on closed routes in the Monument.

What motivated Kane County to repeatedly flout the federal government’s authority over the Monument? Well, like many rural counties in the West, Kane County believes that the vast majority of routes on federal public land, even in protected areas like national monuments, national parks and wilderness areas, are not owned by the federal government. Rather, these counties fervently insist that ownership of those routes has passed from the federal government to counties and states under R.S. 2477—a 19th century statute granting rights of way to anyone willing to construct a “highway” over federal public lands. Yet, in spite of this insistence, Kane County has thus far not been willing to prove to a court that any of the Monument’s routes are actually owned by the county under R.S. 2477.

Soon after Kane County passed the ordinance, The Wilderness Society and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance filed suit in federal district court against the county and its commissioners. The two conservation groups argued that Kane County’s efforts to reopen the closed routes were inconsistent with the Monument’s management plan and, therefore, “preempted” by the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes federal law as the “supreme Law of the Land. . . .” The district court agreed and enjoined the county from enacting ordinances and posting signs that opened closed routes in the Monument until it had proved ownership of those routes.

Kane County appealed, and, in November 2008, the National Trust for Historic Preservation filed an amicus brief with U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit asking the court to affirm the district court’s decision. Our brief highlighted how a decision upholding the county’s action could undermine efforts by federal land managers to develop and implement comprehensive travel plans not only for the Monument, but for public lands throughout the West. The brief also discussed the likely chilling effect a decision in favor of the county would have on federal land managers’ willingness to close claimed but unproven R.S. 2477 rights of way, even when vehicle use was damaging or destroying cultural resources.

Recognizing that Kane County had proceeded “unilaterally” and without first proving ownership over the routes in question, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision. If the county wants to exercise management authority over routes in the Monument, then the Tenth Circuit said that it must do more than “simply alleg[e] the existence of R.S. 2477 rights of way; it must prove those rights in a court of law . . . or obtain some other recognition of such rights under federal law”—a sensible holding that treats the county no differently from anyone else claiming an interest in property.

Ti Hays is the public lands counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Do You Know How to Visit Archaeological Sites With Respect?

Posted on: July 28th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 

Written by Dr. Rebecca Schwendler

Do your travel plans include exploring archaeological ruins in the West? If so, please watch this informative video.

Produced by the San Juan Mountains Association and the Bureau of Land Management Anasazi Heritage Center with a grant from the Colorado Historical Society, the video features five Native Americans of different generations and affiliations (the pueblos of Santa Clara and Acoma in New Mexico and the Hopi Tribe in Arizona) talking about their connections to prehistoric ruins and ways that we can visit them appropriately.

As a professional archaeologist and the public lands advocate for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, I want to spread the word that we all have a part in preserving our country’s amazing archaeological, historical, and cultural places – whether they were created by our ancestors or someone else’s. While I find that most visitors are thoughtful and responsible, even well-meaning people can cause damage if they don’t know how to visit with respect.

So, how does one visit with respect? Here are some tips:

1 – Notice where artifacts and rock art are located in relation to one another and the surrounding landscape. Look for spatial patterns in materials, object types, and colors, but leave the artifacts in place and the rock art untouched. Artifacts and art are like pieces of a puzzle; if you move, remove, or damage them, you create a false and incomplete picture of the past and disrespect the people who made them.

2 – Observe structures from different angles and appreciate their materials and forms, but never climb on walls or into structures or pits unless a sign invites you to do so. Even if you don’t appear to be harming the structures, the cumulative effect of many people doing the same thing will. You don’t want to be that person who helps destroy things so that others can’t enjoy them, do you?

3 – Stick to designated trails to get the best views without damaging natural and cultural resources. Pretend you’re visiting your grandmother’s house - steer clear of those flower beds and don’t throw rocks in her pool!

At the end of the day, visiting archaeological sites (and any historic place for that matter) with respect means imagining the people who created the place, going slow, being observant, appreciating the location, and leaving things exactly as you find them. Always treat these special places as you would want others to treat your belongings and favorite hang outs.

We all need to run wild sometimes, just not in our precious and often fragile archaeological sites.

Rebecca Schwendler, Ph.D., is the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s public lands advocate. She is stationed in the Mountains/Plains Regional Office.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Toward a Grander Casa Grande

Posted on: July 22nd, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

Written by Andy Laurenzi

NTHP_blog_CGRNM_2

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument (CGRNM) in Coolidge, Arizona, is among the state’s best-known cultural landmarks because of its striking “Great House,” one of the largest-known prehistoric structures in the United States. Established as the first archaeological reserve by President Benjamin Harrison in 1892, CGRNM is not only the largest protected Hohokam site, but also the sole National Park unit that preserves and interprets Hohokam culture. The area enclosed within the park’s current boundary also preserves some of the once-extensive village associated with the impressive adobe structure.

As the Center for Desert Archaeology’s Field Representative, I am working with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, City of Coolidge, Town of Florence, Friends of Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Pinal County Historical Society, and others in support of a National Park Service (NPS) proposal to expand the boundaries of this unique monument. In fact, our local partnership recommends an even more expansive vision that would preserve a significant portion of this vanishing cultural landscape.

Between A.D. 300 and 1450, people known to archaeologists as the Hohokam lived and farmed in the river valleys of southern Arizona. Over time, they built and maintained irrigation canal systems to support agricultural production. At least two dozen systems that watered tens of thousands of acres have been documented in the Phoenix area alone, along the lower Salt River and the middle Gila River. Villages containing about 200 to 400 people—sometimes as many as 1,000—stood every two to three miles along the canal systems.

Courtesy of the National Park Service

Courtesy of the National Park Service

These strings of neighboring villages formed irrigation communities. The settlement at CGRNM was one of five large villages along the Casa Grande Canal, which ran along the south side of the Gila River. Adamsville Ruin, about five miles upstream, is another large village in that community. A shorter canal, the Escalante Canal, ran north of the Gila River. This northern irrigation community included the sites of Escalante Ruin and Poston Butte Ruin.

In keeping with its mission to preserve, interpret, and educate the public about CGRNM, the NPS is proposing to bring more of the original village, part of the Casa Grande Canal, and a significant portion of the Adamsville Ruin within its boundaries—and thus within NPS’s ability to protect those resources. Possible additions include an interpretive trail between CGRNM and Adamsville Ruin, which would give visitors a better sense of the Hohokam landscape and ease of interaction between neighboring villages in an irrigation community.

... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

Conservation Sites in the West Threatened by Urban Growth

Posted on: July 21st, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Written by Ti Hays

Ironwood Forest National Monument (Photo: BLM)

Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona (Photo: BLM)

In March, preservationists and conservationists cheered when President Obama signed into law the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which includes statutory recognition for the National Landscape Conservation System. Overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Conservation System contains about 27 million acres of federal land set aside for the protection of cultural and natural resources by previous Congresses and former presidents.

However, a report released last week by the Sonoran Institute examining the effects of urban growth on the Conservation System tempers somewhat our enthusiasm over this recent legislative success. According to the report, urban centers in the West—in particular, Phoenix and Las Vegas—are rapidly swallowing up the areas that once buffered Conservation System units from development. In some cases, as at Ironwood Forest National Monument near Tucson, housing developments are literally popping up along the borders of areas designated for protection

Sonoran Desert National Monument, Arizona (Photo: BLM)

Sonoran Desert National Monument, Arizona (Photo: BLM)

A litany of other problems introduced or amplified by urban growth are also discussed in the report, including vandalism to cultural sites, illegal off-road vehicle use, trash dumping, and target shooting, and inappropriate recreation. In one notable example, BLM was forced to exclude motor vehicles from 55,000 acres of the Sonoran Desert National Monument after off-road vehicle users repeatedly strayed from designated travel routes and caused extensive damage to the sensitive desert environment.

Lastly, the report questions whether BLM can effectively respond to the “special challenges” posed by urban growth, given that many units of the Conservation System are managed on a shoestring budget and law enforcement rangers are responsible for patrolling an average of 200,000 acres.

What can be done? Well, for starters, the report recommends that Congress increase funding for the Conservation System to $75 million, which would allow BLM to hire additional staff and commit more resources to protecting Conservation System units from the effects of urban growth. The report also recommends that BLM educate local governments on the need to consider the effects of urban growth on Conservation System units when planning for development on adjacent land. Finally, the report recommends that BLM pursue a variety of mechanisms, including land acquisitions, conservation easements, and legislative measures, to limit or prohibit development on private and public land adjacent to Conservation System units.

As shown by the report, urban growth in the West presents BLM with a complex array of management issues that will increasingly challenge the agency’s ability to protect many units of the Conservation System. Whether the agency can meet that challenge remains to be seen, and will likely depend in large part on the willingness of Congress to provide the Conservation System with the necessary funding and resources.

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Ti Hays is the Public Lands Counsel at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.