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Editorial: Rock-art vandals need hard time

Vandals need a bigger deterrent.

First Published May 30 2014 05:52 pm • Last Updated Jun 02 2014 06:02 am

It’s not quite toppling a goblin, but it’s still discouraging that someone in this day and age could decide to carve initials and a date into an ancient petroglyph panel in Nine Mile Canyon over the Memorial Day weekend.

This comes a month and a half after Arches National Park elected to close a section of the park indefinitely because too many people were scratching and carving into a soft sandstone ridge in the Sand Dune Ranch area.

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And let’s not forget the vandals’ more sinister cousin, the grave looter. In the Cedar Mesa area of San Juan County — an area revered by southwestern Indian tribes because it is their ancestors’ home — there are cases of looters conducting nighttime raids of archeological sites on motorcycles and ATVs.

Who are these people? Stupid kids? Sometimes, but too often the perpetrators turn out to be juvenile in attitude only. Or, in the case of the grave robbers, there is a clandestine market for their spoils. It’s adults doing bad things for money.

In all cases, it simply is not realistic to think we can increase security. Right now there is exactly one BLM officer who patrols the 700,000 acres of Cedar Mesa, home to 56,000 archeological sites.

What is really required is attitude change. In the case of looters, there are some otherwise very respectable people out there who somehow think it’s OK to have a shelf display for something lifted from a grave. It’s not OK.

That attitude change should extend to political leaders like those who defied federal law to drive their four-wheelers down Recapture Canyon to make a point.

If the state wants to show it’s up to the job of public lands stewardship, maybe a place to start is getting serious on punishing those who defile those lands.

We thought we were getting the ultimate example last year in the saps who not only tipped over a rock formation in a state park but shot a video of it to ensure their immortality. But now it appears that the topplers’ punishment by YouTube may be an insufficient deterrent. If we’re really going to make progress on this, it may be time for someone to go to jail.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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