Archaeology rules split ranchers, tribes
A bill to help cattle ranchers more easily install water tanks and fences on state lands has drawn the ire of archaeologists and tribes who say their ancestors’ graves are at risk.
The bill is sponsored by David Cook, R-Globe, who runs a cattle ranch.
He said state requirements are overly burdensome for ranchers, who must pay to have their land surveyed for archaeological sites to allow them to do the basic tasks necessary for raising cattle.
The surveys require ranchers to negotiate a bureaucracy that slows down simple projects such as installing water lines, he said.
The Senate approved the bill on a 1612 party-line vote Monday with two senators not voting. It must go back to the House for final approval before it goes to the governor.
Cook told the House Land, Agriculture and Rural Affairs committee during a Feb. 8 hearing on the proposal that he believes the State Historic Preservation Office, which oversees archaeological surveys, is overstepping its authority.
“This is going to be an an example where we have not reined in or tightened up rules and stuff where someone is operating outside the boundaries,” he said.
House Bill 2498 would allow ranchers to simply move their projects 50 feet away from suspected cultural sites to avoid digging them up.
Cook said ranchers needing to build several miles of fence or water line could scout the route for archaeological sites and if they see something that looks like it could such a site, they could simply move the work.
The bill also would require the State Historic Preservation Office to create a streamlined process for reporting his-
torically significant artifacts or sites.
The new law would allow anyone who has completed a national cultural resources training program to conduct such surveys.
Today, the State Historic Preservation Office partners with other state agencies to protect historic sites. Cook and other supporters of the bill said the requirements for getting land surveyed for sites have grown increasingly complex and burdensome.
Such sites are generally protected, but even getting someone to identify potential sites holds up projects, they said.
Opponents are concerned that could lead to untrained volunteers misidentifying ancient dwellings or grave sites and damaging them to clear trees or build cattle tanks.
Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Cameron, is a member of the Navajo Nation and spoke against the bill Monday.
“I was raised near the Little Colorado River,” she said. “My family’s homelands were within what is now Wupatki National Monument. I grew up herding sheep, riding horses, raising livestock among the ruins of that area. We were taught not to bother these areas because those were the homes where long-ago people lived.”
She said archaeologists who studied the ruins were able to share valuable information with Navajo people, and that all archaeological sites deserve such respect.
“As Native Americans, these historic sites need to be taken care of when they are discovered when they are being opened up for development,” she said. “They need to be taken care of by the people that are trained that get four-year degrees from universities.”
She said she has two family members working as archaeologists.
The Navajo Nation did not officially register in opposition to the bill. But the Cocopah Indian Tribe, Gila River Indian Community, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and Tohono O’Odham Nation all opposed it,though on Monday the Gila River tribe changed its position to neutral.
Conservation groups and dozens of individuals also registered opposition.
Supporting the bill are the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association and Arizona Farm Bureau Federation.
Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said no sites will be damaged as a result of the bill.
“The problem is there is a lot of misinformation out there on this bill,” Allen said.
Bob Prosser runs a ranch between Flagstaff and Winslow. He spoke in favor of the bill at a February hearing.
He said ranchers face gridlock when trying to navigate the state agencies to complete simple projects such as fences on their range, which he called “process paralysis.”
“I assure you our ranch and cattle industry that asked me here today is committed to protecting the resources, and cultural resources are a very important one of them,” Prosser said.