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Vandals destroy, deface Badlands pictographs
By Rachel Odell
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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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