Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Learning the Hard Way

The recent discovery of vandalism at Red Rock National Conservation Area (NCA) at one of the rock art sites has been making the rounds on the news circuits. This kind of senseless and destructive vandalism is inexcusable and I hope that the vandals are caught. However, in trying to find the best of a bad situation, one thing that these recent actions have done is stir up the conversations around protection, education and enforcement of our public lands and cultural sites.

KNPR State of Nevada had Mark Boatwright, BLM Archeologist in Las Vegas, as a guest speaker on December 3rd 2010. The conversation was centered on the vandalism at the rock art sites but the discussions also touched on some of the issues faced when managing cultural sites. In the interview Mark said, “The problems that we have with managing rock art sites is their accessibility. The closer that they are to the road, whether it’s an NCA or a monument; the more likely you are to see graffiti. 

In a post I wrote back in October, Defining Access, I worked to define that access is more than the simple definition of an open or closed road. I think that Mr. Boatwright complements this discussion with his quote about access, “The problems that we have with managing rock art sites is their accessibility.” I believe that access also encompasses the visibility or awareness of certain areas as well. Political designations are one tool that is used to raise awareness of specific areas to a much broader audience. These political designations include NCA, Wilderness, National Monument and the likes. To brand certain areas with distinct labels and highlight them on every map, publishing it on internet sites and printed media is making these areas more accessible by advertising their location. However, with this raised awareness there is also an associated risk that is being ignored.

While many are using the recent actions of vandalism at Red Rock as testimony to rush Gold Butte’s status as an NCA, I would counter that this is plain and clear evidence of why it should not be rushed. If an area like Red Rock that has been protected for many years, is much smaller geographically, and has more intense management and available resources than Gold Butte, and it is still getting vandalized, maybe pointing the spot light on Gold Butte is not in Gold Butte’s best interest. Now is not the time to earmark Gold Butte for the bureaucratic brand.

Now is the time, when Gold Butte is flying low on most people’s radar, to build a practical management plan. A management plan that focuses on education and enforcement objectives that can safeguard Gold Butte’s resources and accessibility for the general public. To label Gold Butte an NCA and highlight it on every map and print it on every national register is reckless and irresponsible. If everyone who believes they are as impassioned as they preach about what is best for Gold Butte, could focus their misguided energies on sustainable solutions for Gold Butte, positive achievements could be accomplished. However, if this agenda is pushed, it is being run at the risk of the irreparable consequences it carries to the physical sites and the general public.

It is time to foster new discussions instead of the same ol’ worn out rhetoric calling for the implementation of ineffective policies that do not work. It’s time to come up with sustainable solutions, instead of taking risks and putting our public lands in danger.