Fallon Tribe Seeks Protection of Prehistoric Sites

By  | 

The Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe is pushing for a higher level of federal protection for three prehistoric sites in Churchill County.

The tribe wants the Bureau of Land Management to designate the Sand Mountain Recreation Area, Grimes Point Archaeological Area and Stillwater Mountains as areas of critical environmental concern.

If the request is granted, the agency would have to create a separate management plan for each.

The designation would qualify the sites for extra law enforcement patrols and certain restrictions.

Among other recommendations, the tribe wants to curtail off-road vehicle use at the sites.

The tribe also wants to completely close Sand Mountain for one month each spring for tribal spiritual ceremonies and to close it to motorized vehicles the following month.

Tribal leaders said they think the two-month closure would give the area time to heal.

Off-road vehicle enthusiasts and environmentalists have been at odds over BLM plans at 600-foot tall Sand Mountain for more than a year.

The popular off-roading site also is the only known home of the Sand Mountain blue butterfly, which environmentalists want to protect under the Endangered Species Act.

As many as 50,000 off-roaders visit Sand Mountain annually, the vast majority of them from California.

The BLM has its own plan to create an area of critical environmental concern at Sand Mountain and portions of the tribe's proposal probably will be included in it, said BLM planning coordinator Teresa Knutson.

She was uncertain which tribal recommendations would be included.

The tribe also wants the BLM to reduce trails through the 2.5-mile long dune 25 miles east of Fallon and cap the number of visitors.

"I'd be surprised if the whole (tribal) membership knows what their leadership is proposing," said Jon Crowley of the Friends of Sand Mountain off-road advocacy group.

The proposals follow what authorities are calling the two worst cases of looting of American Indian sites in Nevada history.

One of the largest archaeological cases ever investigated involved a five-member ring convicted of stealing more than 11,000 artifacts primarily in southern Nevada from 1997 to 2001.

Its ringleader was sentenced to three years in federal prison in December - the longest term ever for a first-time offender of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.

In another case, an Oregon man is accused of stealing more than 2,000 relics from a cave in northern Nevada's Black Rock Desert in the early 1980s. In April, he lost a bid to overturn a $2.5 million fine - the fourth largest ever assessed for archaeological theft.

Among artifacts taken by looters were the bodies of a young boy and girl, and 10,000-year-old sandals that possibly were the oldest footwear found on Earth.

Last month, two men were tried in federal court in Reno and convicted of stealing government property after two boulders bearing petroglyphs were found used as landscape ornaments in one of the men's front yards.