KERNVILLE — The destruction of petroglyphs on a Native American archaeological site has a man facing serious consequences in federal court.
Christopher James Harp, 58, was indicted by a grand jury in Fresno on Oct. 22 for a felony charge of depredation of public resources with damage exceeding $1,000.
Harp was arrested on Oct. 8 as a result of an investigation conducted by U.S. Forest Service law enforcement into graffiti damage to a Native American petroglyph. If convicted, Harp faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and could be fined up to $250,000.
The damaged petroglyph was discovered by individuals from the local tribal community earlier this summer and reported to a Forest Service archaeologist who works closely with tribes in the area, according to the Forest Service. The damage was reportedly done at a location known as Rabbit Island, a large rock outcropping in the Sequoia National Forest in Kern County, and the site of a large Tubatulabal Indian village..
Law enforcement was immediately notified and the resulting investigation identified clues in the graffiti that ultimately led to Harp’s identification and arrest.
Graffiti on rocks and buildings on public lands frustrates land managers and visitors alike, and drains federal agencies of funding that could be better applied to improving public lands, say investigators.
“We do not tolerate graffiti of any kind on public lands, but in this instance a piece of history was destroyed,” stated Al Watson, District Ranger of the Kern River Ranger District. “I am glad we were able to apprehend the individual responsible.”
The Kern River Valley has been a gathering place for Native Americans for thousands of years. The tribal community of the valley engaged in extensive trading networks and used North and South Forks of the Kern River as travel routes between destinations.
“Many of the beautiful places we visit today for recreation were home to those that preceded us,” says the Forest Service. “Defacing natural resources with graffiti may cause destruction of cultural artifacts left behind by these Native American people.”
The graffiti allegedly left by Harp was unique for its extensiveness and lewd content, and was painted with very durable asphalt primer. Cleanup efforts are being designed that will both avoid damage to the petroglyph and respect the tribal significance of the resource.
The public is urged to please report to the Forest Service or law enforcement if you see anyone defacing public lands with graffiti.
“Vandalism of public land is not only an eye-sore and a waste of an agency’s resources, but it also has the potential to destroy a piece of our national heritage.”