At the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) New Mexico State Office, I have been learning a great deal about what it takes to manage our public lands from the perspective of a Cultural Resources Specialist. This has been a particular interest of mine for some time now after taking a course on cultural heritage management in my second year of graduate school. It was not until I took that course that I began to consider alternatives to using my pending doctoral degree. I realized I did not want to be a professor, but I was and am still very passionate about using archaeology to change the world, to make a difference, to mentor, to provide guidance, and to protect cultural resources in this country. In that class I got a little taste of the Section 106 process, but with this internship I am now more familiar with that legislation.
For the past four weeks I have been tasked with revising the protocol between the New Mexico BLM and the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) which outlines how BLM and SHPO will interact and cooperate under the national programmatic agreement to which it is tiered off of. The national programmatic agreement between the BLM, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) and the National Conference of SHPOs (NCSHPO) details the manner in which the BLM will meet its responsibilities under Sections 106, 110(f), and 111(a) of the National Historic Preservation Act. Essentially, the protocol streamlines and simplifies procedural requirements and emphasizes the common goal of planning for and managing historic properties under the BLM’s jurisdiction and control. It is a document designed to give the BLM independence and to streamline the consultation process for most BLM undertakings but also includes provisions to follow in situations where the regulations, 36 CFR Part 800, or other agreement documents must be followed in lieu of the protocol.
One of the very beneficial aspects of the New Mexico BLM-SHPO protocol is Appendix C which lists specific undertakings that have been identified by both parties for which the BLM is not required to consult with SHPO because these are projects or activities that do not have the potential to cause effects to historic properties. One of the undertakings for which BLM does not have to consult with SHPO are on the renewal of grazing permits. Earlier in the internship, one of my supervisors gave us a set of scenarios in which we were to use our knowledge of the protocol and regulations in order to think through how we would carry out our 106 compliance. These were all real-world scenarios that a field office archaeologist has to navigate. One of the scenarios was about the renewal of a grazing permit which I have copied and pasted for you below:
Q: The Rangeland Management Specialist asks you to review an Environmental Assessment (EA) document for a grazing permit renewal. How do you go about documenting your Section 106 compliance and do you consult with SHPO? What section(s) or appendix of the Protocol did you review to reach this determination?
A: For the renewal of a grazing permit you do not have to consult with the SHPO but you do need to document in the case file why any potential increase in numbers or types of livestock or changed seasons of use will not adversely affect historic properties stated in appendix C section IV of the protocol.
Obviously, I was not too sure what this would actually look like in real life. How would I document that no adverse effect would take place? What kind of evidence would that require? I had so many questions. Fortunately, on July 29, another DHA intern and I were given the opportunity to venture out into the field with the archaeologist from the Taos Field Office. Our task for that day was to assist him with grazing permit renewal surveys. He pre-selected a few locations and we went to work. The first location was set among extinct volcanos on a playa where Apache teepee rings made from basalt had been previously recorded. The site was amazing and the landscape beautiful. I admittedly was very envious of the lives these cows lived. The field office archaeologist had us walk in some semblance of a survey line looking for any disturbance of the teepee rings by the cows or ranchers who were leasing the allotment. This involved looking for evidence of trampling, driving “two-tracks” through parts of the site, looking for artifacts in areas where the cows congregated and walked, and just any general signs of disturbance. While we decided that the cows had been, for the most part, staying away from the site, we did find a looters pile of basalt flakes and expedient tools stacked on a flat rock. The field office archaeologist made sure to document this by taking a photo and writing down a few notes.
We went on to check out a few more known sites within the boundaries of grazing allotments to check for any sign of adverse effects. Thankfully all we found were more basalt debitage, a horned lizard, some antelope drama, a lone coyote, and a big horned sheep. All in all it was an educational, adventurous, and exciting day in the field that really put everything I had been studying and learning in context and made me feel more confident that this is a job I could do if I were ever offered a position as an archaeologist at a BLM field office in New Mexico. The experience really exhibited to me the role that I could potentially play in site stewardship and solidified for me the hopes I have of using my education and expertise as a southwestern archaeologist to make a difference, on-the-ground, quite literally.