The Sky Is Not Falling (fwd) (for US Southwest Archaeologists)

Hugh W. Jarvis (hjarvis@ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU)
Wed, 5 Jul 1995 12:47:39 -0400

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 05 Jul 95 06:54:00 MST

Subject: Open Letter
Date: Wednesday, June 28, 1995 5:33PM

Please post the following letter to the SW Archaeology Group. The
letter may be distributed freely.

June 14, 1995

An Open Letter
from the State Archaeologist
to All Archaeologists Practicing in New Mexico

Dear Colleagues:

As I am sure you all are aware, the archaeological record of this
country and the practice of archaeology itself are at greater risk
today than at any time since the passage of the National Historic
Preservation Act in 1966. There is, for example, language in the
current House budget report describing Section 106 as redundant
with state and local laws and concluding "Therefore, this mandate
can be waived." There is language in the Senate balanced budget
resolution eliminating the Advisory Council on Historic
Preservation which, if implemented, would open up the Section 106
process to a complete revamping. In the current anti-regulatory,
pro-business political climate, Section 106 compliance, especially
as it concerns archaeology, is coming under intense scrutiny and
pressure for change. I am including with this letter some of the
information that we have received about proposed and possible
Congressional actions that will affect archaeology.

Every place that I have gone in the past 6 months, I have found
individuals and organizations, such as the Advisory Council on
Historic Preservation, the National Conference of State Historic
Preservation Officers (NCSHPO), and the Society for American
Archaeology, talking about the threats to preservation in this
country and what to do. Frankly, much of this discussion has
amounted to hand-wringing and discussions about what we can do
or stop doing in order to get ourselves "off the radar screen" of
Congressional budget cutting and program elimination. The
NCSHPO, for example, has formed a task force on "rethinking
archaeological mitigation" with a subtext of "how can we make
archaeology a lot cheaper?"

First of all, I want to say that the archaeological sky is not falling
just yet. On the other hand there are some clearly visible cracks in
the firmament. What I would like to propose is the somewhat
Pollyannaish view that we should view all this as an opportunity
rather than as impending doom. There are things that we can do to
improve the way that we do archaeology, and now is a very good
time to make those improvements. There almost certainly are
going to be important changes in how we do public archaeology in
the future. We can wait to have these changes imposed on us -- by
the ACHP if they continue to exist, by the NCSHPO or the
National Park Service, or worst of all, by Congress. Or we can try
to get ahead of this wave of change and make our own, carefully
thought-out changes before change is imposed from outside.

We have, I think, some time to do this, but possibly not much time.
Serious questions are going to be raised very soon about the costs
of archaeology, but no group that I am aware of has come up with
any sort of plan for answering these questions or dealing with the
repercussions. I am proposing in this letter that we, here in New
Mexico, come up with our own answers and make our own
changes; if we get lucky, we can offer our solution to others rather
than having someone else's solution imposed on us.

I am proposing that we work together as a professional community
(and I will describe how I envision that happening below) to look
not just at the costs of archaeology, per se, but at the cost/benefit
ratio. The question that I would like us to address is "How can we
improve the cost/benefit ratio of publicly funded archaeology?" By
publicly funded archaeology I mean archaeology paid for by the
public, either directly in tax dollars spent by federal agencies or in
Section 106 compliance costs incurred by industry and passed on
to consumers. By costs I mean both monetary costs and costs in
time delays, which we all know are sometimes more of a concern
for industry than the monetary costs. And by benefits I mean both
the current benefits to the public and the long-term benefits to our
society of increased knowledge about the past.

Specifically, I plan to convene a task force that will begin meeting
in September to address a set of critical questions. What are the
costs of archaeology in New Mexico both in federal dollars and
private sector dollars spent? What proportion of cost of doing
business on federal land or with federal approvals is archaeological
expenses? What are the public benefits of archaeology in increased
knowledge, enjoyment, educational opportunities, recreation? What
is the impact of heritage tourism on the state's economy? How has
public archaeology contributed to our knowledge of the past? How
good a job are we doing at preserving the prehistoric heritage of
this state? How may jobs, how much money in taxes, and how
much money in purchased goods and services (including per diem)
are generated by archaeology in New Mexico? And most
important, what steps can we take to improve the cost/benefit ratio
by minimizing the costs in money and time and maximizing the
public benefits?

I have no interest in figuring out how to do cheaper archaeology.
But I and every archaeologist in this state have a critical interest in
figuring out how to ensure that every dollar spent on public
archaeology is necessary and is yielding the greatest possible gain
in preservation, research excellence, and public benefits. We owe
it to the public that is paying for this; we owe it to the resources
that we are professionally committed to preserving and conserving;
and our jobs may well depend on it.

The results of the process that I am envisioning here will
potentially affect every single archaeologist in the state, and I
would like to see everyone get involved. I propose that all of you
form regional groups -- let's say Southeast (including ENMU),
Southwest (including Alamogordo and El Paso), West Central
(Socorro to Zuni to Grants, including Window Rock if they wish
to participate), North West (Farmington and folks from Colorado
who work NW New Mexico), and North Central (Taos to Santa Fe
to Albuquerque). These groups should include contractors, federal
and state agency archaeologists, and academics -- all professional

I need one or two volunteer organizers for each regional group to
coordinate with my office, and the groups need to begin discussions
NOW -- face to face, phone, fax, e-mail, small task groups,
however you want to do it. But you need to be ready with
information, ideas, and two elected representatives for the
September task force meeting. I know everyone is desperately
busy; we are too. But please believe that nothing that any of us is
doing is more important than this or has a greater potential to affect
all of our professional lives more fundamentally than this. Most of
us could find ourselves thoroughly not busy very soon if we do not
address this issue seriously. We are going to be asked very
difficult questions, and we must be ready with answers. By mid-
July we will be sending out a set of questions requesting
information on financial costs and benefits and suggesting possible
discussion topics about ways to improve the cost/benefit ratio for
the use of the regional groups.

This task force will be making recommendations about the
fundamental issues of public archaeology -- site eligibility, effect,
preservation, and mitigation. These are not things that the SHPO's
office can or should decide alone; these are decisions that should
be made by and must be supported by the profession as a whole.
Once the task force comes up with a plan, we will work through
the regional groups to give everyone in the profession an
opportunity to comment on the plan; we are even discussing the
possibility of convening a statewide congress to discuss the plan.
Next we will begin working with other interested groups -- tribes,
industry, government agencies, avocational societies, etc. -- to
consider their issues for inclusion in the plan and to attempt to gain
their support.

Where we go from there will depend on what has happened in
Congress in the mean time. If the Advisory Council still exists,
NMSHPO will propose to amend our state substitution agreement
with them to incorporate the procedural changes identified by the
task force so that Section 106 can be carried out according to the
plan. If the Council is eliminated, who knows? We will deal with
it as best we can. Whatever happens, we will be better off for
having a plan in place and an organization set up for disseminating
information and ideas throughout the professional community.

I very much need your help to ensure that New Mexico can meet
and weather the challenges to public archaeology posed by the
current political climate. I am sending this to every agency,
consulting firm, and department on our mailing list. Because we
are facing a 5% recision in our state budget and a federal funding
cut of unknown magnitude as well, we are trying to save money,
so I am just sending one copy of this letter to each organization.
Please xerox it and distribute it to everyone in your organization,
including the field crews, and pass it on to other archaeologists that
you know; I want to reach absolutely everybody that I possibly can.
And then please begin discussions immediately among yourselves
about how to organize your local participation in this effort -- find,
draft, or impress into service a regional coordinator or two and
have them contact me as soon as possible, and by mid-July at the
latest. This process is going to move forward fairly quickly and it
may affect you profoundly; please get involved and please take
responsibility for getting your regional group organized.

In the meantime, the New Mexico Archeological Council is
keeping an eye on what is happening in Congress and issuing
legislative alerts to its members and letting them know when letters
and phone calls to senators and representatives are critically needed.
These congressional contacts work and the more contacts that are
made, the better they work. Organizing this type of lobbying effort
is not something that my office can do because of our status as a
government agency. This would be a good time to join NMAC, or
at least be sure that you are in contact with a NMAC member so
that you can participate in these congressional contact efforts; the
preservation community must be as organized and as activist as the
opposition if we want to retain federal protection for the prehistoric
heritage of this country.


Lynne Sebastian, Ph.D.
State Archaeologist
New Mexico Historic Preservation Division
228 East Palace Avenue
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501