copyright © 1996, Electric Nevada
|In the discord between Western metal detector hobbyists and the U.S. Forest Service, there's no shortage of solutions offered.|
|True, the proposed answers from each
side usually have to do with the other side seeing the
error of its ways -- or at least behaving better.
But as the conflict begins to be explored, there may be the faint outlines visible of some possible middle ground.
Dick Markley, top archaeologist for the Tahoe National Forest, acknowledges that the very structure of the U.S. Forest Service -- unelected bureaucrats administering great chunks of Western lands and answerable only to other faceless bureaucrats on the other side of the country -- is a problem for communities in the West.
Yet he still finds it puzzling that many Westerners don't automatically come and ask for instructions before going into national forests with their metal detectors. That, he thinks, would be a big help.
"I think the general principle is," he says, "if someone is going to go out and pursue a general activity, a hobby -- whether it's motorcycle riding, metal detecting, or rock collecting, or what have you -- they bear the responsibility to go find out what are the rules governing their activity.
"Are there any open areas that are open, or closed; are there any requirements?"
In Markley's view, "the responsibility ...falls on the person who is going to go out and do that activity, to go inquire and find out, 'where are the areas I can do this; what are their rules regarding it?'
On the other hand, Ron Stockman, who runs the non-profit Mother Lode Research Center and is active in the defense of detectorist rights, sees the fundamental problem as the Forest Service's unwillingness to actually tell hobbyists where they should not go.
"Say you're a detectorist, and you go in there [to a ranger headquarters] on a Saturday morning, and you're very open and honest, and you say 'Look, I'm up here to do some detecting; I don't want to get into any archaeological or historical sites. Can you tell me where to go?'
"What happens is, they will say -- this has been the normal case -- they will say, 'We can't tell you that.' And you as a detectorist, might say, 'Well, I'm trying to stay out of the areas.'
"'Well, if we tell you the areas where you can go, then you will be able to figure out the areas where you're not supposed to be in, and you'll go there.'
Markley admits the Tahoe National Forest is reluctant to identify "no-go" areas. However, he doesn't seem to register the apparent conflict between that posture and the requirement that detectorists find out where they should not go.
"We have not identified areas that are closed to metal detectors, mainly because there are a lot of legitimate uses for metal detectors, and so we've resisted closing any areas," he says.
"But the burden falls upon the detectorist to know what the rules are, and to know that if they get into old mining sites, and old cabin sites, and anything that might be historical, it's incumbent on them to find out whether or not that is something that is a historical site and therefore off limits, or it's something that they can continue to work in.
"And too, if we were to put a list of all the places that are closed, that's just an open invitation. Those are the places that obviously are going to be a treasure map for people to go to, to go dig into archaeological sites."
If Forest Service policy is self-contradictory, Ron Stockman thinks it's intentionally so.
"You really have to look at the policy they have in place [to see] why they can't have the public find out about it," he says.
"If they come out and say, 'Yes, we consider every cabin a site, whatever, whatever,' they know what that's going to sound like to the public."
So Stockman doesn't expect the Forest Service to make any changes in its policy on its own. In his view, it's up to detectorists and folks like himself to get the public to understand what is going on in the national forests. That, he thinks, would be a big step forward.
"One of the things we always try to get people to understand is part of the basic human makeup. Let's face facts; most of us, if we didn't have to put up with something, we'd just as soon NOT put up with it.
"Well, the Forest Service people are no different. They want to go out there and they want to do their job and they don't want to be bothered. And the archaeologists, and historians, want it all to themselves. So actually, it's not that they're really such big bad people, it's just that it ... makes lands easier to manage if you don't have to put up with one particular group. No matter what that group is, it just makes it easier for you to manage."
As part of its public education campaign, Stockman's Mother Lode Research Center is asking detectorist groups all over America to get their local Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management officials to answer a specific list of questions about their archaeological site policies.
"We already know there are problems all over the country," says Stockman. "We already know who's causing them and why. And what we want to do is put together a national record, before we go to Washington to show lawmakers up there what's going on here."
When friendly lawmakers in Washington, D.C. see this is a severe nationwide problem, he says, "we can move to have policy changes made in the public land management agencies -- and more or less curtail the power that the archaeologists and historians have, which is really running amuck."
In mid-September, officers of Reno's Silver State Treasure Hunters club wrote John Skinner, supervisor of the Tahoe National Forest, and asked for written answers to the MLRC list of ten questions. In mid-October Skinner's office responded, saying it was working on the list.
"We've sent them a note," archaeologist Markley told Electric Nevada , "and said, 'Bear with us; we're putting together the information for you.'"
Louis Test, the attorney who represented "John," the detectorist whose story was told in installments one and two of this series, says that both the Forest Service and the hobbyists need to directly focus on the problem.
Right now, he says, the Forest Service is "gun shy" because of the avalanche of protests that came in when Stockman put out word on the Internet of what the Forest Service was doing in the case of "John."
Nevertheless, the federal agency should follow through with pledges they made to develop informational programs so the people know "what they can or can't do, out there in the field," he says.
Although Test's client, wanting to end his case as soon as possible, chose to plead no contest, the attorney believes the Forest Service would be well-advised to re-draft its key regulations, if it ever hopes to win a case actually fought in the courts.
For one thing, in the current Forest Service system, "there is no real determination of what is, or is not, of historical significance," and for another, "these archeological sites are not marked.
"So how can a person identify whether he's out there picking up something of historical significance if he has no idea he's in a historical area?"
Test acknowledges "the Forest Service is kind of caught between a rock and a hard spot: they're worried about people going out and plundering these sites...if they specifically identify them as ... archaelogical site[s].
"Those are the bad guys; people shouldn't go out and do that. But by the same token, you can't put up a sign that says, 'No bulldozer, no tractor activity, in this area' and expect people to realize that that's an archaelogical area."
Another reasonable >change, he says, would be to allow for warnings, sometimes, rather than citations.
"The Forest Service doesn't really have any
warning procedures, where they could issue, like, a
warning ticket and say, 'If you do this, this is a
possible violation of federal rule 611 or 616,' you know,
or whatever it may be, so that people are cautious in the
future. The only thing the Forest Service can do now is
issue a citation," he says.
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