PRESS RELEASE:  July 10, 2007

Liz Thomas, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (435) 259.5440
Veronica Egan, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, (970) 799.4361
Alexander Hays, National Trust for Historic Preservation, (202) 588.6341

New Looting in Recapture Wash Confirms Link Between Off-Road Vehicles and Damage to Archaeological Artifacts

Pottery Sherds in Recapture Wash

Pottery sherds in Recapture Wash. Photo courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  
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MOAB, UT:  Visitors recently discovered freshly dug pothunter pits in a newly documented archeological site in Recapture Wash.  The vandalism occurred in a significant site known as the Recapture Great House near Blanding, Utah, adjacent to an illegal off-road vehicle (ORV) trail constructed over the past couple of years.  Although the Bureau of Land Management has known about the illegal ORV trail for the past 18 months, and has known about the significant cultural resources along the trail, the agency has failed to take any action to protect these valuable resources from vandalism and theft.

According to the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s (SUWA) Liz Thomas, “BLM’s failure to take appropriate steps to protect the cultural resources in Recapture Wash is inexplicable, since the agency’s own November 2006 archeological report states that the illegal ORV trail crosses through several significant cultural sites, and is very near dozens of other sites.”  The BLM’s archaeological survey did not include the entire canyon, but was limited to 15 meters on either side of the illegal ORV trail, yet 31 archeological sites were identified within this narrow corridor, and all 31 sites were deemed eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.   

The BLM’s archaeological report emphasizes that “site features are being directly impacted along the existing ATV track . . . The potential for future indirect impacts must be recognized and minimized [including] artifact loss, incidental feature damage . . . or actual site looting.”  The report concludes that the “changes in accessibility of the canyon bottom and adjacent rim areas resulting from the existing ATV track development can be expected to hasten and increase indirect impacts to cultural resources here.”   

Jerry Spangler, Executive Director, Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance, has documented the connection between looting of archaeological sites and ORV access.  “Any time you open up areas for motorized access, you open up areas for mischief.   Archaeological sites become more vulnerable from illegal and inappropriate activities associated with ORVs, whether intentional or inadvertent.” 

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, in a May 2007 letter, formally requested that BLM issue an “immediate closure order for the ATV trail system” based on the existing federal law that requires BLM to close ORV routes when it determines motorized use is causing or will cause considerable adverse effects upon cultural resources.  The Trust’s letter notes that BLM’s own archaeological survey and report confirms that continued use of the ORV trail “will continue to cause adverse effects on several cultural sites eligible for the National Register.” 

Veronica Egan, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, has been monitoring Recapture Wash for several months since learning of the illegal ORV trail construction.  “I was speechless when I saw the fresh pot-hunter pits in the Great House,”  Egan said after finding and reporting the vandalism to the BLM.  “BLM should find whoever did this damage, and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”

Based on BLM’s archaeological report, SUWA had previously requested BLM restrict ORV use in Recapture.  “This is exactly what we have been afraid would happen from BLM’s failure to stop ORV use of the illegal route.” said Liz Thomas, attorney with SUWA. “BLM was fully aware that increased motorized access would bring increased risk to these ancient artifacts yet it chose to ignore existing law requiring closure of the route.  BLM’s inaction was an open invitation for this sort of destructive act.”

>>Recapture Wash Photo Gallery


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