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Vandals destroy, deface Badlands pictographs

Vandals destroy, deface Badlands pictographs
Published: Thursday, January 23, 2003

BLM archiologist stands before damaged pictographs

By Rachel Odell
The Bulletin

Using charcoal, someone drew over several pictographs in Dry Canyon in the Badlands east of Bend, defacing about five and destroying at least one of the irreplaceable images.

Officials do not know exactly when the damage occurred, said John Zancanella, a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) archaeologist, during a tour of the site in the Badlands Wilderness Study Area.

Bill Marlett, executive director for the Oregon Natural Desert Association, said the vandals struck sometime in the past several weeks. Marlett often hikes through the canyon for recreation and work. His organization wants Congress to declare the Badlands an official wilderness area.

Within the canyon, the vandal or vandals built a fire pit that stretches about 4 feet across. The fire charred the sides and top of a hollowed rock that is about 6 feet tall.

Someone used charcoal to write “truth, “light,” and “healing” on the walls. The Taoist yin-yang symbol representing balance was also drawn. A vandal also used the charcoal to trace the outline of one pictograph.

Damaging a federal resource can be a felony crime if the damage exceeds $1,000, said Roger Crisofi, law enforcement ranger for the BLM. A lesser charge would be a class A misdemeanor, which can result in up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000, he said.

Officials are investigating the damage to determine its extent and will likely have an assessment later this week, he said.

The pictographs offer a snapshot into the past, said Duran Bobb of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. They are remnants of a time when Native Americans lived throughout Central Oregon and left paintings to immortalize rites of passage, among other things.

Zancanella said no tribe lays claim to the pictographs in the Badlands, but added that the images are irreplaceable and important to protect.

“This type of pictograph is not rare, but it is not common, either,” Zancanella said. “They are a special part of this area.”

The damage infuriated Bend resident Dr. Stuart Garrett, who hiked the area last Friday after speaking with Marlett. Garrett e-mailed digital photographs of the damage to BLM officials and formally requested they close the access road that leads to the canyon as an emergency measure.

“It is kind of sacrilegious,” he said of the damage. “Whoever did it has a total lack of regard. To have an area like the Badlands within a 20 minute drive of Bend is very special, and then to have this spectacular evidence of Native American culture is really special. To not protect or cherish that is criminal.”

Marci Todd, assistant field manager for the BLM, said officials are considering how they will clean up the damage and whether they will close roads. The road that leads to the canyon is open year-round and accesses private property, she said. Sometimes agency officials will close similar roads by placing a locked gate across it and providing those who rely on it access to their homes with a key.

Nonetheless, the open spaciousness of the Badlands makes closing access difficult, she said.

Road closures could also prove controversial.

The canyon where the damage occurred sits in the heart of the Badlands

Wilderness Study Area, a tract of about 17,000 acres managed by the BLM. The designation means that officials recommended that Congress pass legislation to create a wilderness area, which would ban cars and off-road vehicles.

Since that initial recommendation, the wilderness proposal has proved politically controversial. Environmentalists try to push the agenda while off-road highway advocates and some ranchers resist the creation of wilderness.

Marlett said the vandalism underscores the importance of making the area inaccessible to vehicles. People are less likely to damage a resource if they have to walk to it, Marlett said.

“What kind of legacy does the BLM want to leave Central Oregon?” he asked. “That the pictographs can be destroyed or that some areas need to be off limits to vehicles. When you allow such easy access, this type of thing is going to inevitably happen.”

Archeologist Zancanella said it was fortunate that the BLM had officially documented the pictographs.

“The documentation allows us to know what we have lost,” he said.

Anyone with any information about the vandalism should contact the BLM at 541-416-6700.




Note: This follow-up appeared one year later:  The rest of the story!

Pictograph Vandals Still Sought

By Jenny Phan
The Bulletin
March 19, 2004

More than a year ago, within the Badlands 'Wilderness Study Area, about three American Indian pictographs were completely destroyed and several others were severely damaged. Federal officials are still looking for suspects.

John Zancanella, a Bureau of; Land Management archaeologist, said the damaged pictographs have been cleaned up now, but they are not completely restored.

The vandalism occurred in December 2002.

The vandalism generated about $7,000 in costs to cover restoration - including the services of a professional conservator, several volunteers and the efforts of Zancanella, to rehabilitate the pictographs, the BLM archaeologist said Thursday in a telephone interview.

A vandal or vandals, built a large fire in one of the shelters that completely destroyed at least three pictographs, he said. Faces of the rocks showing three pictographs were found broken off, leaving no way to repair' the damages, he said.

Then, he said, someone used charred ends of sticks and drew pictures over the other pictographs along the wall of the canyon.

"Those were symbols that were produced by people who are no longer living and who had a different life and a different world view," he said.

Since then there have been no acts of vandalism of any pictographs lining the walls of the canyon, Zancanella said.

The canyon lies within the Badlands area, a 32,221 acre area of public land east of Bend. Damage to the pictographs has focused public attention on an area that has been recommended by federal officials for wilderness designation - action Congress has yet to take.

If approved by Congress, cars and off-road vehicles would be banned from the area.

"There is not much more we can do other than monitor," Zancanella said. "You can't go in and repaint them or anything."

Damaging a federal resource can be a felony crime if the damage exceeds $1,000. A lesser charge would be a class A misdemeanor, which can result in up to 12 months in jail or a $1,000 fine, or both.

A reward of $2,000 was established six months ago by the BLM for information leading to the successful prosecution of individuals involved in the pictograph damage.

Anyone with information about the vandalism should contact the BLM at 541-416-6700.

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