NEW MEXICO — One of the key pieces of serving the public is making sure that our nonrenewable resources remain in place for future generations. To do that, the Forest Service has an active Heritage program to monitor impacts to cultural resources such as significant archaeological sites. Yet there is always more work than there are hands to do it. To address that disparity, Santa Fe National Forest Site Stewards and forest Heritage program staff turned an existing collaborative into a self-sustaining, comprehensive volunteer organization.
As a result, site stewards perform independent monthly inspections and site condition assessments on more than 150 sites on the forest and report their results to the forest’s archaeologist. This important work fills a gap in priority resource management and national target achievement the Heritage program staff is unable to address due to competing priorities.
The Santa Fe National Forest initiated the Santa Fe National Forest Site Steward program in 1996 as a result of public interest and concern about archaeological sites. These nonrenewable resources were at risk from vandalism and deterioration due to natural forces. The first class was made up of just 20 stewards. Between 1996 and 2001, the program continued to grow to its current size of between 60 and 80 committed volunteers.
For the first five years, the forest managed the steward program on an individual basis. Each steward reported to the forest archaeologist after receiving initial training. But in 2001, the Cerro Grande Fire and its effects held the potential to end the program due to the extra workload associated with managing the effects of the fire on cultural resources. A group of site stewards approached the Forest Supervisor and forest archaeologist with an idea: they could develop an organization capable of self-managing site stewardship on the forest while meeting the forest’s cultural resource objectives and reporting to the forest archaeologist. That led to the program as it is today, a comprehensive volunteer organization managed by the Santa Fe National Forest Site Steward Council with protocols and handbooks covering the areas of program operations, site inspection, continuing education, training, public information and reporting.
The council sponsors an annual meeting and biannual training to incorporate new stewards into the program, and conducts continuing education lectures during the winter months to pique steward interest in cultural resources. It also publishes a sit steward newsletter written and edited by site stewards, maintains a website and oversees online reporting.
Site stewards serve as ambassadors for historic preservation on the forest by their efforts on the ground and by their efforts to recruit new volunteers and participation in educational and interpretive programs. The site steward program has fostered a close relationship between Santa Fe National Forest and these volunteers who have dedicated so much time to inspecting significant cultural resources on the forest. The stewards donate approximately 2,000 hours of time each year and contribute over 20,000 miles in travel in personal vehicles. Their assistance with these cultural resource site inspections helps meet the forest’s National Heritage Program management standards that program employees find difficult to complete due to the many priorities they must fulfill.