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  • Checkerboarding and the place of Rock Art

    BLM has its hands full.  From trickle down rules to bubble up attitudes.  And worse.  As it evaluates, plans, decides, implements, we sometimes notice bits and pieces of reference to rock art clinging to places swept along the margins. 

    After traversing public lands earlier this month on the lava flat west of Fish Creek Rim, an expansive zone between Warner Lake Basin and Drakes Peak, I am thinking about the situation.

    Checkerboarding frames the various overlays of uses and jurisdictions in this somewhat invisible and silent zone. This home of wildlife, sage and juniper, BLM characterizes as  “dry, scab rock flats with low sagebrush.”  Significantly nearby ranchers use it seasonally for grazing cattle.  We found ourselves pluck in the middle of the Lynch-Flynn Grazing Allotment I later learned.  881 AUMs (Animal Units per Month) allowed annually, falling between April 1 and mid-July. A few hikers find their way to Lynch’s Rim, a scenic overlook, and may spot the resident herd of Bighorns reintroduced from California. BLM field personnel probably cruise through time to time to monitor or augment resource studies. We saw no one. Edging the allotment are power-towers, a major BPA line, with a wide swath of right-of-way, streaming unrelentingly straight for California, or maybe Las Vegas.  

    Water as always in the dry west water drives action.  Certainly it did for eons of ancient inhabitants, those in the rhythm of seasonal rounds that based their activities near these upland springs. At least one spring site has been occupied by peoples for as long as 11,000 years ago, early Holocene. This one, and other springs, was used intermittently for seasonal procurement.  Hunting in earlier days (11,000-7,000 BP) is conjectured. Later, plant gathering dominated sustenance activity. 

    BLM says two of the springs have rock art they call Great Basin Carved Abstract (GBAC), an archaic style exemplified by the famous buried glyph panel at Long Lake in the uplands to the east, the other side of Warner Basin. No GBCAs were obvious - at least to the caliber of that at other locales we've seen in the Northern Great Basin. Since BLM doesn’t provide images, or substantiate its claim of 50 sites with Carved Abstract in Lake County, we have no way of knowing,

    As we explored the spring sites, shallow draws, and desiccated washes, this terrain emerged as territory as one segmented and mapped out by BLM: the Lynch-Flynn Grazing allotment of 23,060 acres (of which 18,800 is BLM) overlaps to east the Fish Creek Wilderness Study Area (WSA) and the related Fish Creek Rim Natural Resource Area.   To the north an array parcels are called, yes, Checkerboard (SE, etc.).  Also one named Monument for no obvious reason. (In 2010 these were deemed to lack wilderness characteristics.))  Near one fenced-off spring water filled a cattle water trough. Reading allotment study brought to mind a recent article reporting, “Grazing is the chief cause of desertification in North America.”  Whether this broad truth applies to this particular region, I do not know. Probably, despite BLM’s best efforts to sustain natural soil and native plant communities.  In any event taxpayers hugely subsidize cattle grazing on public lands.  That’s not likely to change even as these lands continue to desiccate with global heating over the next several decades. Here, it is the wildlife and the native plants that will feel it most acutely as they slowly disappear. Rock art will remain, patient testimony to cooler, moister eras.

    At night coyotes spoke across the sage vastness.  Morning sun illuminated a line of pronghorn moving slowly along, single file, keeping their distance, wary to see humans in their country in early March.

    The petroglyphs we discover trail the seasonal water poolings and flows, seemingly at random and in various styles and ages.  Some glistened on water-polished black basalt. Some struggled for clarity on achingly dry basalt, befriended by stunning arrays of lichen.  Beauty unfolding.

    To inquire about sources for this post, email:  douglasbeauchamp AT gmail.com

    Photos:Fish Creek Rim petroglyphs