Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Border artifacts, cultural sites are in danger

[Source: Billy House, Arizona Republic] -- Archaeological and historical sites along the U.S. border with Mexico and other valuable cultural resources are being destroyed, including areas held sacred by Native Americans, according to a new report from a presidential advisory panel. The culprits: dynamic population growth and urbanization in Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and California, combined with increased cross-border traffic and illegal immigration through the region and related border enforcement. Unless many of these cultural and natural resources along the U.S.-Mexican border are better protected, and soon, they will not be available for future generations, the panel warns.

"It's impossible to preserve everything," said Paul Ganster, chairman of the Good Neighbor Environmental Board, a committee of academics and representatives of local governments, non-profit groups, tribes and federal agencies that advises the White House and Congress about issues along the border. But, Ganster said, "we should want to preserve for future generations the opportunities we've had to enjoy these areas that remind us of our historical and cultural past and (that) relate to who we are and where we've come from. Once changed, they are obliterated forever."

For example, the volunteer Arizona Site Steward Program documented more than 50 acts of vandalism to sites in southern Arizona during 2005, the board said, including pothunting, surface collection of artifacts, illegal dumping of trash, removal of petroglyphs, fence-cutting and damage from off-road vehicles. In El Paso County, Texas, vandals at the Hueco Tanks Historic Site have defaced pictographs (rock paintings) in the past 15 years, causing what the report calls "irreparable destruction."

The advisory panel's recommendations have no force. But they are being distributed to government officials, landowners and others to help increase awareness of the problems and to generate coordinated public and private efforts to preserve the historic sites and lands. The "border region" is defined in the report as areas in the four states that are within 60 miles of the U.S.-Mexican line. In the almost 10,000 years of settlement in the region, the report says, there are archaeological sites and cultural areas that include Native American villages, historic mission churches and Mexican and U.S. territorial-era ranches, as well as historic mining districts, frontier towns, and early railroads, roads and trails.

Among the panel's recommendations:
  • Increase monitoring activities at archaeological sites.
  • Increase partnerships among preservation groups, governments and private groups to buy sensitive land with valuable cultural and natural resources and to manage growth.
  • Create more incentive programs and funding to encourage private landowners and developers to voluntarily protect cultural resources.
  • Increase public attention to the effects of illegal immigration across tribal lands and give greater attention to the special practices and activities linked to locations of cultural significance.
  • Minimize off-road driving and creation of new roads by the U.S. Border Patrol, and increase "training of Border Patrol personnel in cultural sensitivity and appreciation of the border region's diverse cultural heritage.
[Note: To read the full article, click here.]