Ancient Tribal Sites Protected in CA Desert

INDIO, Calif., 3/30/2005 – The Trust for Public Land, a national conservation organization, announced today that it has permanently protected 360 acres of ancient cultural sites in the California desert for addition to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

The area, known as the “Fish Traps,” is the first phase of a two-step, 4,360 acre site which TPL plans to protect and is located on the west side of the Salton Sea in Imperial County, just west of California route 86 and just south of the Torres Martinez Indian Reservation.

Alvin Warren, director of TPL’s Tribal Lands Program, said, “The Fish Traps acquisition has been the result of a wonderful collaboration among TPL, the Native American Land Conservancy, the California Department of Parks and Recreation, and a number of local partners, including Native American tribes in the Imperial area. We are deeply indebted to our tribal partners for their vision and passion to protect this site.”

The fish traps are the remnants of rock formation used by Native Americans hundreds of years ago to collect fish when much of the region was underwater because of the existence of Lake Cahuilla.

“People may think this is only an empty desert,” said Warren. “But it is not. It is a cultural landscape holding the habitation sites, trails and cultural places of the Native American peoples who have lived here for many centuries. If we listen to them and open our eyes we can begin to see the richness of the place.”

In the first phase, TPL acquired the 360 acres from the Archeological Conservancy and will convey it to the state of California for addition to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. In the second phase, 4,000 acres will be conveyed in a separate transaction at a later date.

Mark Jorgensen, Superintendent of Anza-Borrego, said, “This is a wonderful, precious site and it should be preserved for all who visit here, so they can see the past and the places that were left behind by those who came before. From reading the early maps for creating the state park, it is clear that the Fish Traps land was intended to be protected, so this is part of realizing a long-ago dream. We thank TPL and the Native American Land Conservancy and everyone who worked on this project.”

Kurt Russo, executive director of the Native American Land Conservancy, said, “The actions being taken today, to preserve what we cannot afford to lose, will be considered visionary by the generations to come. Society as a whole can only benefit by thinking first of future generations and leaving them such priceless legacies.”

Joe Benitez, a board member of the Native American Land Conservancy, added, “The Native American Land Conservancy is happy to announce, along with TPL, the acquisition of this historic beach and fish traps site. It is a preservation of ancestral grounds welcomed by the Cahuilla Indians of the Coachella Valley and the Native American Land Conservancy membership. Hopefully in the future, we’ll be able to acquiesce adjoining lands where other fish traps are located.”

Jay von Werlhof, a local archeologist who had for many years championed the protection of the Fish Traps site, said, “I’ve started the movement to incorporate this property into Anza-Borrego around 1984 and I’m thrilled that this acquisition has finally been completed.”

The Trust for Public Land is a national, nonprofit land conservation organization dedicated to preserving land for recreational, ecological, cultural, and historical value for the public. TPL works with local, state and federal agencies and grassroots community groups. Since it was founded in 1972, TPL has protected more than 2 million acres valued at more than $3.8 billion. TPL depends on the support of individuals, foundations, and corporations. The Tribal Lands Program mobilizes TPL’s extensive expertise and resources to assist tribal governments and Native communities with their land acquisition and protection efforts.