Arizona State Parks (ASP) conducted a study in 2014 titled The Impact of Climate Change on Archaeological Resources in Arizona: Harnessing Citizen Science through the Arizona Site Stewardship Network. The study was funded by a grant from the National Center for Preservation Training and Technology of the National Park Service.
The study shows the current relationship between the climate, human behavior and site damage on public recreational properties. This study can be used as a reference for future preservation planning. ASP’s final report indicated that looting, vandalism, and/or negative impacts from recreation are present at more than one third of sites studied across Arizona. Most of the negative impacts result from recreation and vandalism. More than a tenth of the sites showed evidence of illegal looting. This study focused on three primary areas of Arizona with high visitor impacts Tucson, Prescott and northwestern Arizona.
The study relied on the valuable efforts of the Arizona Site Steward Program volunteers. Site Steward volunteers collected monitoring data from more than 2000 archaeological sites across the state of Arizona in an effort to offset the deleterious impacts of illegal looting, vandalism, and reckless damage to archaeological sites.
Researchers reviewed data generated by Site Steward volunteers from 2010 to 2014, and compared these data with site condition information, fluctuations in temperature, precipitation and season. These data were aggregated and curatedin a secure digital repository (The Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR), an international digital repository for the digital records of archaeological investigations at Arizona State University).
The study indicates vandalism tends to occur in cooler, and drier times of the year, when temperatures are moderate. When backcountry recreation temperatures are in the 40- to 70- degree range, there are more impacts from vandalism and recreation, as compared to hotter summer months, or colder winter months in the north. Northern Arizona experiences more recreationalvisits, and thus negative archeological impacts in the summer, and vice versa for southern Arizona. These results, while not surprising, can assist land managers in planning for the preservation of at-risk archaeological sites. Whether this trend will continue as the climate changes is speculative, but in general, land managers can anticipate that negative human-caused impacts to archaeological sites will occur during the most “comfortable” times of the year.