Saturday, 5 May 2018

US Government Censors Employees' Ability to Engage in Public Debate on Heritage Management

According to Dino Grandoni ('The Energy 202: Interior agency blocks group of archaeologists from attending scientific conference' Washington Post May 3rd 2018), the US Bureau of Land Management 'blocked at least 14 of its staff archaeologists and other specialists from attending a major scientific conference this year, at a time when archeological sites have become a flashpoint in the debate over public lands protection'. The  archaeologists from BLM were scheduled to give a presentation at a symposium during the annual meeting in Washington of the Society for American Archaeology but permission to attend was withheld after 'reviewing the conference topics and agenda' and the desire to send 'the people who could best represent the BLM' (BLM spokeswoman Amber Cargile quoted). The presentation was titled “Tough Issues in Land Management Archaeology,” and it ultimately had to be cancelled due to the lack of participation of government scientists.
The symposium was going to touch on several contentious issues, according to the event schedule, including the enforcement of the 1906 Antiquities Act under which President Barack Obama designated numerous new national monuments now under review by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The act, signed by President Theodore Roosevelt, grants the commander-in-chief authority to set aside public land — including archaeological sites — for natural, scientific or cultural protection. Former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton did just that when they created the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, respectively, in Utah. One of the justifications for the national monument designations was to protect culturally historic sites for Native Americans. The Utah monument areas, each overseen in part by BLM, have both been raided by artifact looters. Only permitted researchers can legally dig for artifacts on BLM lands. But many conservatives, including many Utahns who wants better access to the land for grazing and other commercial activity, saw the sprawling size of both designations as a case of classic federal overreach. Late last year, President Trump officially moved to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante by more than 1.1 million acres and more than 800,000 acres, respectively. "They don't know your land, and truly, they don't care for your land like you do," Trump told Utah lawmakers and other residents in Salt Lake City in December. "But from now on, that won't matter." 
Some archaeological and environmental groups point to the decision as another example of the Trump administration’s effort to restrict researchers’ communications with the public and fellow scientists. 

Maybe dealers' lobbyists, instead of attempting to dictate how other sovereign countries 'should' protect sites on their territory from looting, might like first to look at the parlous state of affairs in their own country, and make sure that those charged with heritage management actually have the means to carry out that work (resources and ability to enter into public discussion with the stakeholders, the American people).

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