John Locher / AP
Thursday, June 10, 2021 | 2 a.m
The COVID-19 pandemic caused many Americans to find recreation and comfort outdoors, which was largely a healthy trend. Unfortunately, however, the pandemic has also spawned some individuals who polluted sacred petroglyphs, trampled fragile areas, and otherwise devastated parks, public land, and tribal land.
Park officials in Nevada told the Sun that over the past year they had seen a surge in outdoor vandalism and that we weren’t the only western state where parks were damaged. In a recent report in the regional journalism publication High Country News, Utah officials reported a surge in vandalism, including two separate incidents of vandals and climbers defacing millennial petroglyphs. And last spring, officials at the Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico reported a rash of petroglyphs vandalism amid pandemic traffic.
Statistics are not available, but anecdotal reports of the increase in harm are sufficient to indicate that action is needed.
Part of the solution lies with park officials, who should redouble enforcement efforts and reinforce the message that vandals will be located and prosecuted to the fullest extent possible. It is also important to make visitors aware of the importance of staying on approved paths, complying with fire restrictions and other rules to protect outdoor areas.
However, the responsibility for maintaining the parks also rests with the public, especially with the visitors.
All of us who get into the great outdoors – hikers, climbers, cyclists, off-roaders, etc. – need to respect the rules and understand that they apply for a reason. Hiking trails, for example, may seem innocent, but it can actually cause serious damage to desert flora that can take years to recover. (Not to mention it can put hikers at risk of falling or getting lost.)
Littering is not only unsightly, it can also harm desert animals. Desert tortoises, for example, are known to eat brightly colored plastic pieces that they seem to mistake for vegetation.
Regarding petroglyph damage, indigenous communities also emphasize the need to reinforce the message that the destruction of these archaeological treasures is by no means a victimless crime.
For the indigenous peoples, the images are not just ancient works of art; they are living memories of their ancestors and the tribal heritage that white settlers sought to eradicate in their campaign to kill the Native Americans.
Fittingly, destroying a petroglyph is a crime under both state and federal laws, but indigenous peoples say protecting the images is much more than enforcing it. It involves continuous public education.
“You can’t just have a workshop, a zoom panel session and call it good,” Hopi archaeologist Lyle Balenquah told High Country News. “There are always new people coming into these sports and being introduced to the regions in general. There has to be people on site who talk to people as much as possible. “
This is especially true of Las Vegas, where our visitors venturing into the area’s public land may not be aware of the cultural significance of the archaeological sites.
In the meantime, we can all help care for the outdoors by sticking to the rules, picking up after ourselves, joining volunteer groups, and reporting vandalism to authorities. The Bureau of Land Management’s law enforcement department, which oversees federally owned public land, can be reached at 800-722-3998.
Speaking of which, the BLM is offering a $ 10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those who participated in the petroglyph destruction in Utah that occurred at what is known as Birthing Rock in Moab.
The management of our natural areas in southern Nevada is in the interests of everyone, including those who do not venture too much. It will help protect the high quality of our outdoor recreational sector, which is a growing part of our economy in a state where economic diversification is urgently needed.
In addition, it will preserve the spectacular surroundings and archeology around Las Vegas for future generations who deserve to see it as we do – in its pristine glory.