Oregon state officials are considering changes to stop people from looting graves and cultural sites in a Lake County wetland desiccated by years of drought.
On Tuesday, the state Land Board took a step toward permanently closing public access to Crump Lake when water levels dry up. The lake and surrounding wetland has a 15,000-acre footprint in a sparsely populated stretch of Lake County, an area that has been inhabited by Indigenous people for more than 10,000 years.
Police and officials with the Burns Paiute Tribe and Klamath Tribes have long documented theft and vandalism at Crump Lake. In more recent years, extreme drought conditions have dried up parts of the lake bottom, exposing more relics and human remains to looters.
It’s against state law to disturb burial sites, or alter archeological sites without a permit.
Oregon enacted temporary emergency closures to stop looting at Crump Lake in 2014, 2021 and again last summer. The latest closure restricted all public access until it expired last month. Now, the Department of State Lands is seeking permanent rules about how and when it will close the lake during low water levels.
Department Director Vicki Walker told the state Land Board it makes sense to permanently ban all recreation during closures.
“You cannot manage the lake bed if there are some recreational purposes. You have to ban them all and then the state police will be able to cite persons for trespass,” Walker said.
The land board voted unanimously to begin a rulemaking process, which Walker said will include two more public hearings. A final draft of the proposed restrictions would go back to the board for approval.
Public records show a leader from the Burns Paiute Tribe pushed for stronger state intervention.
“This breaks my heart,” Burns Paiute Tribal Chairperson Diane Teeman wrote to tribal and state officials in a September 2021 email.
A couple of months later, Teeman told state land managers that the tribe was spending “an average of $1,000 a day to send out a set of monitors to patrol the lake.”
Teeman called the cost “unsustainable,” but said the Burns Paiute Tribe was “compelled to incur [it]” because Oregon wasn’t doing enough to stop the theft and vandalism.
“We have Ancestral human remains at Crump Lake as well as along the shores of the other lakes managed by the [state of Oregon],” Teeman wrote.
“I look forward to better days ahead.”