Report Urges Forest Service To Protect its Historic Sites

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Chimney Rock, Colorado

Credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation

A sacred Colorado mountain could be mined for uranium; hundreds of 19th-century structures are abandoned and deteriorating; and a Chacoan archaeological site is exposed and unprotected. Who owns these places? The federal government.

A report released today says that the U.S. Forest Service should make protection of cultural and historical sites a priority.

Civil War battlefields, Revolutionary War sites, and other Native American archaeological sites are also at risk, the report says, because the understaffed, cash-strapped Forest Service allows grazing, off-road vehicles, mining, and timber harvesting on its lands (in 2006, the Forest Service generated $364 million from timber sales).

The National Forest System: Cultural Resources at Risk was prepared by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and T. Destry Jarvis, former Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of the Interior and currently President of Outdoor Recreation and Park Services, LLC. It urges the Forest Service to survey its assets.

"There are literally thousands of other sites spanning all 193 million acres of National Forest that have yet to be identified, let alone protected," National Trust President Richard Moe said in a statement today.

According to the report, 80 percent of Forest Service land—and almost 200,000 sites—have not been surveyed for cultural, archaeological and historic resources. The Forest Service owns 325,000 sites, and fewer than 2,000 appear on the National Register of Historic Places, according to the report.

The report makes 11 recommendations, including one to revise the 1976 National Forest Management Act to "explicitly recognize the agency's responsibility for historic and cultural resources." It also suggests the Forest Service restrict off-road vehicles by amending its Travel Management Rule.

Threatened sites within Forest Service lands include:

Mount Taylor, New Mexico

Sacred to the Acoma, Zuni, Laguna, Navajo and Hopi Tribes, Mount Taylor is endangered by plans for a uranium mine—completely legal according to a law passed in 1872. The only thing standing in the way of the mine is the state's temporary  designation as a traditional cultural property, which expires next year.

Chimney Rock, Colorado

Archaeologists have excavated Chimney Rock, a mesa at the northernmost boundary of the Chacoan culture, but its exposed features are unprotected and disintegrating.

Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri

The Mark Twain National Forest was named one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places last year. "Due to U.S. Forest Service budget limitations, many properties [in the 1939 Mark Twain National Forest] are vacant, unsecured, deteriorating and threatened with demolition," according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's listing.

Update

Forest Service staff at the Mark Twain National Forest have asked the National Trust's Midwest Office to help publicize their search for stewards to take charge of historic sites in southern Missouri. A farm with a dozen outbuildings, for example, might make an idea canoe-rental business, says Jennifer Sandy, program officer in the Midwest Office. "Some of them have fabulous potential."

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