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.
To 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.