BLM officer detains family 5 hours for picking up rocks
as posted in Sierra Times
On January 3, 2004, two Bureau Of Land Management agents detained
four adult residents of Whetstone and their three children for five
hours for picking up rocks. The incident, which led to all three adults
being ticketed for illegally removing archeological resources, occurred
at the Charleston Road Bridge, intersecting the San Pedro Riparian
Natural Conservation area. Rachel Howard, Steven Howard and Jim Brown
face fines of up $2,000 and possible jail time if convicted of removing
archeological resources from a protected area. The three adults must
appear for a mandatory court date in March at the Federal Building
Bill Childress, Manager of the Riparian field office in Sierra Vista,
Arizona offers this information.
“Our officers are in charge of protecting public lands. We have had
eight incidents since September of people in violation of removing
artifacts from our sector of the San Pedro Riparian area. We have
incidents all the time, and it’s a constant issue for our officers
to educate the public about the rules. We have so few officers that
it is always just being in the right place at the right time,” Childress
told The Tumbleweed in a phone interview.
Childress continued, “People always take liberties when they are hiking;
they think, out of sight, out of mind. It’s important for the public
to know about these rules. It is a constant chore to educate the community.
This is a good time to remind people that it is a felony to collect
or remove artifacts from federal lands of any kind; that includes
BLM and U.S. Forest Service Lands. Even if the land is owned privately
you can’t touch the resources and you must have the proper permits
to conduct research.”
Childress stated that he did not have all the details of the incident
but was confident Officer Cook acted appropriately. “Cook knows a
great deal about the area and typically shares this with the public.
We hope to develop some interpretive guided tours of the area led
by some of the officers who work the area. This would help the public
and develop a relationship with the community,” said Childress.
“I knew officer Larson, we had met before and he’s really easy to
talk to – but I couldn’t believe this guy Cook, he could have been
a lot nicer. I mean, we had small children with us, they wouldn’t
let my kids or me go to the bathroom, my kids were hungry dirty and
tired from the long hike and then we had to wait there for five hours,”
recalled an exasperated and emotional Rachel Howard.
As Brown and the Howards’ retold the story, they realized they learned
a lesson the hard way; “I think I realize that not knowing the law
basically makes us all a criminal. There were no signs, no warnings,
nothing to alert people they were committing a serious crime,” explained
Jim Brown. The group parked on the south side of Charleston in the
paved parking area at the bridge. The three adults admit they were
out for a hike with their children who love to collect rocks. “You
know how kids are –they love to pick up everything. My kids love to
collect rocks, especially my daughter.”
“We were going to see the picture in the rocks - that’s what I called
it for my kids, of the rock formation with pictographs, “explained
Rachel Howard. We hiked to the area called Millville; we reached the
area about 1 p.m. and we walked around the area for almost an hour.
On our way back we noticed someone dressed in hunting type clothes
he had a mask on and seemed to be watching us,” Howard recalled.
Steven Howard shares what happened next. “When we reached the lot
he (Officer Larson) was waiting for us. Well the one agent came across
the parking lot at us and said, my buddy (partner) saw this stuff
in the back of your friend’s truck and he wants you to wait here until
he gets back. We didn’t know what to do at then other than just do
what the officer asked, we didn’t know what we had done for this to
happen. It took 45 minutes for him (officer Grady Cook) to arrive
at the parking lot,” Steven told The Tumbleweed.
In the meantime Rachel and Steven engaged in small talk with Officer
Larson while waiting for Cook’s arrival on the scene. Jim Brown, his
wife Crystina, their daughter Donna, age 7, Steven and Rachel Howard
and their two children Joshua, age 8, and daughter Tristen, age 7,
were also forced to empty their pockets and had backpacks searched.
“The children finally fell asleep in the cars as they were forced
to wait for five hours, past dinner time, they had nothing to eat
and they were hungry; I asked the officers if I could take my kids
home and they said no!, this is a very serious matter. That’s not
right,” said Howard.
“Here’s a situation, we go to do something with our kids, as a family.
Instead of having my kids sit in front of the TV, our family likes
to go out hiking and enjoy nature. Then we run into a jerk like this
and now my kids are afraid of police officers from this one terrible
incident. They kept asking, why are the police so mean, and they wondered,
were we going to be arrested and have to go to jail?”
“Most Likely the officers were alerted by the articles in the back
of the truck,” said Bill Childress. The suspicious articles in the
back of Browns’ truck were books on pictographs and Indian culture
books, shovels and a screen box, the kind that could be used in sifting
dirt. (note: Cook took all items including books. rt)
If you’re a person who likes to know the rules then pay attention
to the rest of this story – it may save you from a strong-arm run-in
with federal law enforcement agencies.
During this investigation The Tumbleweed spoke with dozens of other
local residents who share the same frustration about speed traps and
“over the top” - “in your face” type encounters with BLM Rangers.
Some have had enough; some of the people interviewed said they plan
on filing complaints with the department.
What you may think of as public lands, are not that at all. The “lands”
belong to the federal government. And they like to remind you of that
fact. Typically, the public, think of these officers as ambassadors,
or nature and history docents. However, a dramatic increase in criminal
activity on public owned (federal) lands, has led to officers of BLM
taking a much tougher approach to policing the lands. At this point
it seems, at least initially, that they approach everyone they encounter,
In Cochise County the border is an acute national security problem
that invites crime from around the world. Hundreds of thousands of
acres of public lands - National Parks, BLM and state lands stretch
along the Arizona border with Mexico, yet agents are told not to approach
groups of migrants and drug dealers, they are instructed to call in
other agencies, namely Border Patrol to assist.
The public assumes the agents are assigned to act as stewards of the
lands and natural resources – not necessarily a bad thing when it
comes to those who wish to trash the land and who wish to rob historical
sites. It is a shame to think we need a special police force to insure
the lands are protected from citizens. Be careful of walking on federal
lands; our government will protect the land from it’s citizens with
much more fervor than it will it’s international borders from an invasion
of people from foreign lands. It is up to you to know the rules; ignorance
is not an excuse.
The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, containing about
40 miles of the Upper San Pedro River is managed to protect and enhance
the desert riparian ecosystem. The word riparian refers to an area
where plants and animals thrive because of an availability of water,
either at or near the soil surface. The San Pedro Riparian NCA is
known internationally for its bird life that attracts thousands of
birdwatchers from all over the world each year. More than 100 species
of breeding birds and another 250 species of migrant and wintering
birds occur in the area, representing roughly half the number of known
breeding species in North America.
The area is also heavily traveled by illegal aliens and drug smugglers
who damage plant life and leave thousands of pounds of trash and human
waste in their wake. Many visitors to the same area have complained
about being startled by groups of people who have illegally entered
the United States. It seems rock hounds are more of a threat and are
dealt with aggressively. BLM spokesperson Bill Childress stated that”
rockhounds” or collectors really should know where they can and should
know they cannot remove artifacts. Some sties even require permits
for photographing or other research type studies.
The BLM also gives these suggestions and warnings to the public and
to collectors on their website. http://www.az.blm.gov/tfo/index.htm
“Rockhounding is the collection of reasonable amounts of mineral specimens,
rocks, semi-precious gems, petrified wood and invertebrate fossils.
Invertebrate fossils are the remains of animals that didn't have bones
such as shellfish, corals, trilobites and crinoids. The material collected
must not be sold or bartered. Arizona has many localities and varieties
of collecting material. Not all varieties are found on public lands.
Collecting of mineral and fossil resources is prohibited in certain
areas being managed under special designation to protect their scientific
and natural values, such as Research Natural Areas. You may not collect
any artifacts, ancient or historical, on public lands without a permit.
This includes arrowheads or flakes, pottery or potsherds, mats, rock
art, old bottles or pieces of equipment and buildings. These items
are part of our national heritage and scientists are still learning
much from them. Human burial remains on both public and private land
are protected by federal and state law from being collected.”
Rocks, minerals and semiprecious gemstones may be collected on public
lands managed by the BLM without charge or permit as long as:
1. The specimens are for personal use and are not collected for commercial
purposes or bartered to commercial dealers.
2. You may collect reasonable amounts of specimens. In Arizona, BLM
sets the "reasonable" limits for personal use as up to 25
pounds per day, plus one piece, with a total limit of 250 pounds per
year. These limits are for mineral specimens, common invertebrate
fossils, semiprecious gemstones, other rock, and petrified wood.
4. Collection does not occur in developed recreation sites or areas,
unless designated as a rockhounding area by BLM.
5. Collection is not prohibited or restricted and posted.
6. Collection, excavation or removal are not aided with motorized
or mechanical devices, including heavy equipment or explosives. Metal
detectors are acceptable, with the exception of the San Pedro National
BLM Arizona manages some of Arizona's best-preserved prehistoric
and historic sites, which span the human occupation in North America.
These include two mammoth kill sites, remnants of a Spanish military
fort, and Indian dwellings more than 1,000 years old. Also, more than
514,000 acres of Arizona public lands have been inventoried with 8,470
Any individual or organization wanting to perform specific archeological
or paleontological fieldwork, such as survey, excavation or site conservation,
following the receipt of their approved Cultural Resource Use Permit.
This form requests specific information on the location, schedule
and nature of the archeological fieldwork and allows BLM to communicate
specific constraints on a project type, schedule or location. An approved
Field Use Authorization might notify permittees of seasonal road closures
near the project area, advise them of potentially conflicting activities,
such as game hunting near the project area, require permittees to
avoid sensitive species habitat near the project area, or advise permittees
on seasonal fire restrictions.
BLM agents can often be seen lurking along roadsides near the San
Pedro River in Cochise County, Arizona. Now we know they mean business.
Local residents should consider the consequences when entering state
and federal lands. These lands are protected by many rules and regulations;
be sure and check the BLM and other government websites. Keeping public
lands in the hands of the public is fine as long as the public keeps
their hands off the land. This incident proves that activities as
innocent as a child picking up pretty rocks, can get you in big trouble.