[Source: Arizona Daily Sun, Associated Press] — The U.S. Forest Service lacks a clear legal mandate and the financial ability to protect thousands of historic sites and buildings on national forest lands from development, vandalism and other threats, a prominent preservation group says. The nonprofit National Trust for Historic Preservation released a report Thursday saying only 1,936 of 325,000 Forest Service sites identified as historically or culturally significant are on the National Register of Historic Places. “We think that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We think there could be as many as 2 million sites,” trust president Richard Moe said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
At-risk treasures include American Indian pueblos and sacred sites, petroglyphs, Revolutionary and Civil War battlegrounds, trails used by the Lewis and Clark expedition and Forest Service lookout towers. About 80 percent of the 193 million acres the agency manages in 44 states and Puerto Rico haven’t been surveyed for such sites, according to the Washington, D.C.-based trust. “The National Forest System: Cultural Resources at Risk“ says the Forest Service, unlike other federal land management agencies, has no statute that specifically mandates historic or archaeological preservation as part of its mission.
Another issue is funding. Less than 1 percent of the Forest Service’s $4.4 billion budget goes to heritage resource programs, according to the report. Nearly half its budget is spent on fires, including fire suppression and decreasing wildfire risk. Threats to historic and cultural sites include off-road vehicle use, oil and gas development in the West, livestock grazing, logging and a resurgence in uranium, gold and other hard-rock mining, Moe said. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]