BLM manager responds to enforcement questions

Public reaction to news of the local Bureau of Land Management patrolling for people “illegally taking artifacts out of the desert” has been mixed – from anger and outrage to belief in regulations. The BLM Field Office Manager Bernadette Lovato talked to Sierra Wave Media about details of enforcement.

bottlesTo many in the Eastern Sierra, bottle and can collection from the desert is a fun pastime, but to BLM it can be a law violation and in some cases deserves penalties. Lovato said her two law enforcement officers use several national acts to protect the desert. She said the Antiquities Act of 1906 says objects 100 years or older must stay where they are. Lovato said the National Historic Preservation Act protects items 50 years old or more. She said BLM protects these items while they are under consideration for the National Register.

Then there is the Archaeological Resource Protection Act which protects items at least 100 years old and also limits penalties. Lovato said, “Managing cultural resources is complex.” Asked what objects her officers would consider protecting, Lovato said,”Old bottles, cans and mining works.”

Aware of the public outrage sparked by recent news of a BLM investigation of a retired man collecting junk in the desert, Lovato said these are uninformed reactions. She said, “This is an ongoing investigation, and I can not comment.” Lovato did say there is nothing on the public record at this point on the case in Chalfant.

Lovato related an incident that reveals the public hostility over regulation of their desert collecting. She said one of her employees, unrelated to the bottle collection issue, was volunteering at the soup kitchen in Bishop and got booed one afternoon. Said Lovato, “Unfortunately, people think it’s okay to remove historic objects from public land. Once removed,” she said, “they’re removed from their context, scientific context, and it’s gone and we can’t complete the story.”

Lovato said BLM is not out there actively keeping people off public land. She said BLM just hopes people will treat public land with respect and leave things there and let others see it. The BLM manager also said that because collection of things in the desert has been “an accepted activity here, from a societal standpoint people haven’t felt peer pressure that it’s wrong.” She said, “They think that it’s okay to take historic objects and put them on the mantel or patio. It’s the public’s resources.”

There are two BLM law enforcement officers in the Bishop Field Office which covers Inyo and Mono.


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12 Responses to BLM manager responds to enforcement questions

  1. Charles O. Jones March 20, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    I believe the BLM’s intentions are noble.
    I also believe they are dreaming if they think this policy is going to fly with the public.

    Choose your battles wisely BLM.

  2. MemyselfandI March 20, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

    I hear that there are tons of artifacts abandoned just east of Bishop. The original owners aren’t using them, and they are wasted being buried out there. Anyone know if the cemetery has a night watchman? I was also wanting to build an outbuilding here at my home, I think I could find all the material I need at the Saline Valley Salt Tram. That aged, rough-cut, dimensional lumber looks so cool. The tram has been out of use for more than 80 years so so I figure no one will care. When you get right down to it rock art is just a prehistoric defacement of nature, so carving my initials over them is just a modern extension of the tradition. Hey I know that I don’t own the stuff I find on land that I don’t own, but so what, life is really all about me. Besides I would rather have that box of arrowheads collecting dust in my garage, even though I can’t remember where half of it came from, then to have it end up in some museum where it could be shared and enjoyed by all. I have a lot of fun finding those old relics, and I took them so I don’t have to share that pleasure with anyone. Heaven forbid taking photos and leaving them in place so that others can enjoy the same thrill. Me Me Me!

  3. Ralph March 20, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

    Can everyone choose the laws they do and don’t want to follow?

  4. ferdinand lopez March 20, 2013 at 8:49 am #

    i still say finders keepers,these old things people find would either be broken into bits or dissintegrate,maybe a local museum could pay people if they bring them in

  5. Mark March 19, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    Still waiting to here about those gas engines stolen from BLM managed land.

    and the funny thing is they were displayed under the BLM’s nose at the Tri-County Fair!

  6. johnjcampnfish March 19, 2013 at 4:36 am #

    Sounds like a government agency that could be targeted for sequester cuts.

  7. Bizzle March 19, 2013 at 12:26 am #

    I’ve lived in the Owens Valley for over 40 years, and everyone I went to school with collected arrowheads, bottles, old auto license plates, deer and elk sheds, quartz crystals and all manor of old stuff either dumped as garbage or lost during a hunt. I’ve seen hundreds of broken arrowheads and pottery that were destroyed by range cattle, sheep, deer and even stepped on by human activity. Why should I leave something that is out of historical context (meaning it is not associated with any occupation, campsite or known historical site but is just lying there) just waiting to be broken or covered up? Where is the harm in this? I think things have gotten off track because of the “supposed” grave robbing and pot digging of a few criminals effecting all the rest of us. Would anyone in their right mind really leave a purple bottle or arrowhead lying exposed on the ground waiting to be destroyed by breakage due to animal or weather events? What good is this? Where is the harm in rescueing it? Billions of artifacts are buried under the desert sands and occassionally the rain or winds, or perhaps a herd of cattle will expose some for a brief time. Why can’t someone be able to save them? It is illegal to sell artifacts and just about everyone knows this. It is illegal to dig up graves and everyone knows this. The valley is not covered with open holes and excavation pits from people illegally looking for old bottles and artifacts. It is a none issue that a few complainers and whiners have made into a bigger issue that the general public doesn’t worry about. Do you fill cheated if you go out for a hike on pubic land looking for arrowheads or old bottles, but can’t find any? If you do find an arrowhead or purple bottle, do you really put it back down? Get real.

  8. Tim March 18, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

    So, it’s OK to drain the one hundred square mile Owens Lake and divert all the water killing trees and wetlands while displacing wildlife and ranchers but it’s not OK to disrupt litter that documents the disgusting presence of man in a valley once so beautiful that it boggled the imagination? I’m confused; I didn’t know that I was supposed to be enjoying leftover old bottles when I visited the valley.

  9. Big Rick OBrien March 18, 2013 at 9:01 pm #

    Surface bottles were dis-carded back in their day because they were TRASH,GARBAGE, LITTER, REFUSE, etc. When I first started collecting bottles back in the 80’s, I would almost cry every time I would come upon a pile of broken purple glass that some idiots had used for target practice. Maybe if someone had come along and picked them up BEFORE the morons with the shotguns came along , they might be in a museum somewhere.(or on someones mantle) AND speaking of the devil…EVERY single bottle in the Laws Railroad Museum was DONATED by bottle collectors that lived in the Owens Valley AND, the same is true for all the bottles on display in the Mineral County Museum in Hawthorne, Nevada. Independence, TOO!

  10. Mark March 18, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    “She said one of her employees, unrelated to the bottle collection issue, was volunteering at the soup kitchen in Bishop and got booed one afternoon.”

    I’m pleased to hear this. The days of hiding behind the agency and just doing your job are over. I wish I was there to boo them too.

    Now what about these old timers and their gas engines stolen from local mines all over the county? When will these engines be confiscated, and these people prosecuted?

    • Desert Tortoise March 19, 2013 at 10:00 pm #

      You are not well and need help.

  11. John March 18, 2013 at 8:39 am #

    I have a couple of old trucks I’ve been hanging on to that are well over fifty years old. Mono County tells me that I can not keep them on my own property, which I pay outrageous property taxes on. Apparently the County regards the trucks as an eyesore. Would these same old trucks be National Treasures on federal lands where everyone could see them?


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