Sacramento, CA–The U.S. Forest Service is pledging to improve its cultural resource protection program at Los Padres National Forest in response to charges leveled by employees, according to an interagency review released today by California Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (California PEER).
According to the October 2002 white paper Ruined Relics: Crumbling Cultural Resource Protection at Los Padres National Forest written by former Los Padres employees and volunteers and published by California PEER, Los Padres National Forest leadership repeatedly ignored staff experts and approved projects that damage or destroy priceless archeological artifacts. National Forest leadership was also charged with violating federal law by failing to complete required surveys and monitoring of cultural sites, and by promoting recreational uses of the forest at the expense of its cultural resources.
Last fall the Forest Service convened an interagency review team to examine the charges levied in the paper. This spring–without any public announcement–the agency quietly released a review report that confirms some of the charges, disputes others and recommends a number of program improvements:
Better monitoring of off-highway vehicle trails;
Adoption of new protections against damage caused by mountain bikes, cattle grazing, equestrian use and artifact theft; and
Improved coordination of prescribed burns and fire suppression activities so that historic and prehistoric treasures are not needlessly sacrificed.
Despite acknowledging the need for these improvements, however, the report concludes that “the heritage program at the Forest is now moving in the right direction.”
“We are pleased that the Forest Service recognizes the need for improvement in the Los Padres cultural resource program,” commented California PEER Director Karen Schambach. “However it seems that the Forest Service is doing its best to put a positive spin on their findings, all while substantially agreeing with most of the white paper’s allegations. The employees at Los Padres will be keeping watch over the agency to see whether it follows through on its own recommendations.”
Investigating one of PEER’s allegations, the review team also found that the Los Padres National Forest had spent $200,000 on a non-existent survey and evaluation of archaeological properties. They noted that although the team has been unable to determine why these funds were fully expended, a report was not produced.