Forest Volunteers Clean Up After Vandals - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

04/05/06 - Houston County

Forest Volunteers Clean Up After Vandals

by Ramonica R. Jones

For the past year and a half, vandals have been illegally digging in the Davy Crockett National Forest. They're searching for priceless ancient artifacts, like hunting tools and pieces of pottery.

John Ippolito, Heritage Resource Program Manager for National Forests in Texas, said they are "Digging to find artifacts that they can then turn around and sell for profit or just keep for themselves. In the process of doing that, they destroy the context of the site."

Seventy-one year-old Ruth Ann White is one of dozens of volunteers here from Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, and several other states. She came to help stabilize and restore land hit by vandalism, but she's discovering many hidden treasures in the process.

"I'm thinking about the possible person who made this - how many hundreds of years ago, maybe -the way they lived out here, history of the forest, history of the United States. The people who were here long before Europeans were," White said.

Digging on federal property without a permit is against the law.

"There's a law called the Archaeological Resources Protection Act," Ippolito said. "A first offense felony for that carries a one-year prison term and/or a $10,000 fine. Subsequent offenses carry up to five years in prison and a $100,000 in fines."

The U.S. Forest Service is working closely with authorities to end archaeological vandalism and looting in East Texas. National forests in this area are now under surveillance.

About 50 volunteers plan to perform about about $80,000 worth of work in six days. The artifacts they find will be cleaned, analyzed, and studied before a report is written.

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