Looting of fossils and archaeological artifacts from national parks – such as Native American pottery and Civil War relics – is increasing as demand for such items rises on the Internet and the world market, reports USA Today. Over the past decade, an average of 340 “significant” looting incidents have been reported annually at the 391 national parks, monuments, historic sites and battlefields – probably less than 25% of the actual number of thefts, says National Park Service staff ranger Greg Lawler. “The trends are up,” he says.
It’s “a chronic problem that we simply have not even been able to get a grasp on,” says the chief ranger at South Dakota’s Badlands National Park. Park service investigators search websites and the FBI helps track looted items, some of which are sold to collectors in Europe and Asia. Prices are rising for some items, including Native American pottery and garments, says the manager of the FBI art theft program. Thieves caught last year at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park sold a Confederate belt buckle for $3,300 and buttons for $200 each. The park service has 1,500 law enforcement rangers and 400 seasonal law enforcement rangers – one for about every 56,000 acres.