BLM Investigates Damage To Oregon Trail Ruts


By Paul Johnson

Burley, Idaho ( KMVT-TV / KTWT-TV ) - The Bureau of Land Management say pristine ruts left by wagons traveling the Oregon Trail of yesteryear near Burley have been damaged by people in search of coins and other artifacts. Apparently using metal detectors and shovels, the individuals located and removed hundreds of items from a few miles of trail currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The ruts, located on public land managed by the BLM Burley Field Office, are protected under the Archaeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA). This act was passed by Congress in 1979 in an effort to curtail destruction of our nation’s heritage from illegal excavation, damage and theft of cultural resources on federal lands.

The damaged ruts served as a natural corridor during eight decades in the 1800s as the United States moved from the eastern half of the continent toward the west coast. "This was a significant event in American history, and we are asking anyone with information about the recent damage to contact us," said BLM Burley Field Office Archaeologist Suzann Henrikson.

“It is important that the public understand that shows like 'Diggers' on Spike TV and 'American Diggers' on the National Geographic Channel do not always convey important information regarding the laws associated with damaging archaeological sites or removing artifacts from public land,” according to Henrikson. “Although owning a metal detector is not illegal, be aware that using this device on lands under federal management may result in a crime. If you sink a shovel in an archaeological site on public land, you could be convicted of a felony.” She said the collection of arrowheads is not considered a felony. However, under federal law, it is theft of government property punishable as a misdemeanor.

Anyone convicted of violating ARPA may be subject up to a $20,000 fine and receive one year in prison. Second time offenders may be fined $100,000 and receive up to five years in prison. ARPA also prohibits selling, purchasing and trafficking artifacts removed from public land. "It is the BLM’s responsibility to protect and preserve any sections of the Oregon National Historic Trail under its jurisdiction," said Henrikson. "The recent damage to the trail near Burley has resulted in a significant loss of history for the American public."

If you have questions regarding the laws protecting historic resources and archaeological sites on public land, please contact your local BLM or U.S. Forest Service office and ask to speak to their archaeologist. If anyone has information regarding the recent damage to the Oregon Trail ruts near Burley, please contact BLM Special Agent Linden Schlenker at 208-524-7590.

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