A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Erosion and vandalism are destroying important Paleoindian sites in the San Pedro Valley, southeast of Tucson, according to geoarchaeologist C. Vance Haynes, Jr., and geoscientist Paul Martin, both of the University of Arizona, and geoscientist Larry Agenbroad of Northern Arizona University. The valley has the largest single concentration of Clovis sites in North America, including Lehner Ranch and Murray Springs where excavations between the 1950s and 1970s found evidence of mammoth and bison kills.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) assumed control of the two sites in 1988, when they were incorporated into the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. In 1990 the Friends of the San Pedro, a volunteer group, spent $5,000 to improve access to Murray Springs with a path and two wooden bridges across Curry Draw. But a proposed mammoth kill visitors' center was folded into a planned single Riparian Center, which has not yet been built. For now San Pedro House, an old ranch structure nearby, and the local BLM office function as information centers. At Murray Springs, vandals have shot out the roadside signpost marking the site and torn up a bridge, and erosion has destroyed a 33-foot swath of the unexcavated portion of the site. At Lehner Ranch, people have been collecting bones exposed by rainstorms.
Last May, the Tucson-based Southwest Center for Biodiversity, a regional environmental group, asked the U.S. attorney for Arizona to investigate the BLM for violating federal archaeological and antiquities laws. It accused the bureau of failing to maintain the sites and claimed that grazing cattle were trampling unsurveyed Indian sites in the conservation area.
Tony Herrell, a program manager at the BLM's Tucson office, which oversees the sites, responds that his office is struggling to manage nearly 852,000 acres with a staff of 23 and a yearly budget of about $800,000. BLM outdoor recreation specialist Dorothy Morgan says that the agency has secured a $10,000 grant from the Arizona Parks Department to install an interpretive kiosk and signs at Murray Springs later this year.
Recently the agency hired additional staff, including an archaeologist, to tend these and other nearby sites, and they have been working with Haynes to address problems of stewardship and interpretation. According to Jane Pike Childress, one of the new staff members, the Tucson office has asked the BLM for $110,000, and she is optimistic that they will get some of the money. Of that amount, $10,000 will go for fencing, signs, and erosion control, including filling in one of the arroyos at Murray Springs to channel water away from the site; the rest of it will go for expanded interpretive displays. "A proper interpretive display will cost much more," notes Childress, "and we will have to get partners and grants to accomplish that."