Why doesn't Japan build a Hovenweep National Monument?

Certainly Japanese tourists are fascinated with the West. They drive out to Monument Valley and complain there aren't enough facilities to accommodate them.If they can beat us in TVs, cars and stereo systems, Japanese scientists must have enough skill to make exact copies of the ruins. I can just see them somewhere in the middle of the Tokyo Zoo, for example - Square Tower Ruin with its sandstone chunks, and thousands of Japanese waiting in lines to troop through.

What? It wouldn't be the same? Why not?

Because they wouldn't be in their natural setting of sagebrush and canyons. And if archaeologists dug around them, they might discover bits of World War II bombs but no fragments of black-on-white Anasazi pottery.

In other words, the natural landscape and the associated cultural resources are important parts of Hovenweep.

That's why it's necessary to protect more than just the immediate ruins themselves. After all, Hovenweep National Monument is only six small, scattered units in southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado, totaling 784 acres.

A year ago, a political firefight broke out over the National Park Service plan to save the ruins and associated Anasazi sites by establishing a 6,000-acre resource protection zone around three of the units - Square Tower, Holly and Hackberry.

Square Tower and Hackberry are in Utah, Holly in Colorado. The zone would overlap the state line.

In 1987, the Park Service signed a "Cooperative Management Strategies" agreement with the BLM to protect the area.

But in July 1988, BWAB Inc. - which has the right to drill on Mobil Oil's leases within the protection zone - filed an application for a permit to drill for oil and gas half a mile south of the Holly unit.

The BLM prepared an environmental assessment and allowed the drilling. The well was dry and was plugged in September 1988.

But environmental groups were outraged that the BLM had allowed the drilling without addressing the impacts of production, should the well become a producer. Also, they charged the BLM did not study the cumulative effects of other drilling in the area.

Groups including the National Parks and Conservation Association and the Colorado Environmental Coalition appealed the BLM's approval of the drilling permit, taking the case to the Interior Board of Land Appeals. The BLM asked that the appeal be dismissed as moot, since the well turned out to be dry.

Last week, the board reversed the BLM.

"We conclude that the appeal presents a significant issue concerning the adequacy of BLM's assessment of the potential effect of drilling and associated road improvement activity on the Hovenweep National Monument and surrounding resource protection zone, which issue is likely to recur," wrote Administrative Judge John H. Kelly.

"This issue is very likely to arise again in view of BWAB's demonstrated interest in determining and developing the oil and gas potential underlying land within the resource protection zone in fairly close proximity to the Holly and Hackberry units of Hovenweep National Monument."

Proposed drilling and anticipated further wells and road work "might cumulatively affect the protected Indian ruins and potential cultural resources in the surrounding lands within the resource protection zone by subjecting them to increased vandalism . . . and generally affect the visitor's enjoyment of the historic scene by increasing the noise and contemporary structures visible from the ruins and protection zone.

"However, BLM has not considered any such potential cumulative impacts."

The board reversed the approval to drill. So the BLM's Colorado officials must study potential cumulative impacts, including those associated with production.

Terri Martin, the Salt Lake-based regional representative for the National Parks and Conservation Association, applauded the IBLA.

"When Hovenweep was protected by presidential proclamation, they drew the boundaries very tight and very small, sort of like around the base of a house," she said.

"Now archaeologists believe the earlier settlement sites and agricultural sites that lie outside the monument but around it are crucial to understanding the Hovenweep story."

Also, she said, a visitor to Hovenweep gazes out over a scene that is essentially undisturbed since the towers were built 800 years ago. "If you put oil and gas rigs in there, that will be suddenly changed."

This is a valuable resource for our country.

If you want to see modern structures, you can go to Tokyo or Salt Lake City. If you want to see a pristine countryside and know that a rich cultural heritage is protected there, you should be able to do it by visiting Hovenweep.