Washington, DC —The reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of vandals who carted off or defaced several ancient petroglyphs on federal desert lands near Bishop, California got a hefty increase today, when Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) added $1,000 to the pot. The reward originally posted by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for information leading to the capture and conviction of the petroglyph vandals has now been supplemented by a local tribe, hikers and other conservation groups.
The petroglyphs, likely carved by ancient hunters into the red tufa of the volcanic tablelands near Bishop, are estimated to be between four and ten thousand years old. The vandalism was discovered by visitors and reported to BLM’s Bishop Field Office on October 31. The petroglyphs, just feet from dirt roads, are extremely vulnerable. BLM, with its tightening budgets, has not been able to keep patrols regularly onsite and has instead relied on the public stewardship to protect the sites.
At least four ancient petroglyphs were cut from cliffs at the Volcanic Tableland. A fifth was defaced with deep saw cuts and a sixth was removed and broken but left on site. Dozens of other irreplaceable artifacts were also damaged in what authorities are calling “the worst act of vandalism ever seen” on federal lands in the area. Perpetrators removed or damaged rock art at five locations within the site.
Public outrage continues to grow as word spreads of the desecration at the ancient Bishop site as well as others in the west. BLM’s original $1,000 reward has been augmented with $1,000 from a local Tribe, the Paiute-Shoshone, plus $1,000 from the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation. The Access Fund, representing California climbers, has raised more than $1,200 in donations online. Locally, the Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association is also collecting money for the reward fund.
Executive Director Jeff Ruch, announcing PEER’s offer, said, “It is critical that the vandals be caught, convicted and put behind bars. That’s a message anyone else contemplating such sacrilege might understand.” PEER is also soliciting donations to supplement its reward fund. “We want to make sure that solving this crime pays more than the crime itself.”
Native rock art is vulnerable to theft and vandalism not only on BLM lands but also on national park lands, as well. PEER is leading a campaign to induce the National Park Service and the City of Albuquerque to better protect the estimated 22,000 petroglyphs spread over miles of the Petroglyph National Monument. An online petition has drawn hundreds of supporters pressing for consistent management standards and patrols protecting the invaluable rock art for which the Monument was created.
“Unlike natural resources, our cultural artifacts can never be replaced if they are destroyed,” Ruch added. “These measures demonstrate that the public will do what it takes to support our land management agencies in safeguarding our heritage.”