Albuquerque — With the agreement for managing Petroglyph National Monument set to soon expire, the degree of protection for its priceless rock art is the major bone of contention. Congressional lawyers have concluded that the federal responsibility for safeguarding the estimated 22,000 petroglyphs cannot be contravened by the City of Albuquerque, according to an opinion posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The rich trove of cultural and natural resources within Petroglyph National Monument, which curves 17 miles along Albuquerque’s western horizon, is threatened by the inability of the City and the National Park Service (NPS) to cooperatively manage the two-thirds of the Monument on City-owned land which, due to cutbacks, is left largely unpatrolled. As a result, these lands have been plagued by vandalism, trash dumping and degradation from a variety of sources, such as off-road racing scars.
The five-year Cooperative Management Agreement between NPS and the City lapses in May. In the current agreement, the City refused to allow NPS rangers to patrol or enforce Park Service rules on City lands. The City’s position is contradicted, however, by a Congressional Research Service legal opinion obtained by New Mexico U.S. Senator Tom Udall. That opinion, which supports the position espoused by PEER, concludes “NPS has authority to enforce laws and regulations in the Boca Negra and Piedras Marcadas units under the enabling act and general law…” providing a statutory responsibility which supersedes any agreement with the City.
Recently, ancient rock art on federal lands has been targeted by thieves and vandals. PEER is concerned that the works within Petroglyph are even more vulnerable given their proximity to urban areas and ready escape routes. For that reason, PEER has pushed for consistent management standards and a higher level of patrols protecting Monument assets. More than a thousand people have signed a petition to Mayor Richard Berry demanding he accept Park Service patrols and greater protection for Petroglyphs, but so far he has refused to even meet with petition sponsors or local advocates for the Monument.
“People want Petroglyph better protected now,” said Daniel Patterson, Southwest Director of PEER, who today forwarded the Congressional Research Service opinion to both the City and the NPS. “The invaluable assets inside Petroglyph belong to the nation and that national interest cannot be trumped by the recalcitrance of the City of Albuquerque.”
Since the joint agreement is subject to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the NPS will have to perform an Environmental Assessment on any successor agreement before it may be adopted. Given the public notice requirements of NEPA, the renewal process must begin soon to avoid a period in which there is no controlling management agreement.
“As it stands now, most of Petroglyph National Monument is a no-man’s land,” Patterson added. “We call on Mayor Berry and the Park Service to take the peril at Petroglyph seriously and become stronger partners to safeguard and restore the Monument.”