Adventures in the Past
Contributions From NHPS Section 106
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Protecting the Cultural Heritage of the Public Lands:

Contributions from Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages the largest, most diverse, and most scientifically important body of heritage resources among the Federal land management agencies.  These resources represent the tangible remains of at least 13,000 years of human habitation of the New World.

Preserving such remarkable prehistoric and historic assets is a huge challenge, but Federal efforts to conserve cultural properties received a significant boost with the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) in 1966.  Provisions under Sections 106 and 110 of this law have enabled BLM to increase its inventory of known archaeological and historic properties almost threefold in the last two decades alone:  from 85,951 sites in 1981 to 278,948 sites in 2005.

The Need for the National Historic Preservation Act

In the 1950s and 1960s, Federal law protected only a limited number of nationally significant cultural properties.  During those two decades alone, hundreds of Federal projects—such as highways, dams, and urban renewal developments—were completed without consideration for community cultural properties that may have been located on those sites.   As a result, those Federal projects destroyed or damaged possibly thousands of cultural properties, much to the dismay of local citizens.

Congress noted this phenomenon occurring across the country and recognized that new legislation was needed to ensure that Federal agencies considered cultural properties in their activity planning.  In 1966, the National Historic Preservation Act was passed to address these concerns.   

With NHPA and the review process required by Section 106, many world-class properties that are eligible for listing or currently listed on the National Register have been saved from destruction after being identified or studied.  Consideration of these places has preserved important scientific, educational, recreational, economic, and social values.  This benefits current and future generations by providing a more comprehensive view of the various people and cultures that shaped our nation.  NHPA has been amended and strengthened several times since 1966, and is considered the cornerstone of Federal historic preservation law.


Agency Requirements Under Section 106 of NHPA

Section 106 of NHPA requires Federal agencies to take into account the effects of their actions and use authorizations on properties included in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.    The Section 106 process includes a series of sequential steps:  Inventory and Evaluation; Consultation; and Mitigation.  In addition, Section 110 of NHPA builds on Section 106 by adding a general requirement for Federal agencies to proactively preserve and document the cultural resources they manage.


Cultural Resource Discoveries and Projects Resulting from Section 106:  A Few Intriguing Examples

Limpy Creek:  The Limpy Creek site in southwestern Oregon represents a typical Section 106 compliance venture.  Discovered during inventory for a road realignment project, the site presented a rare, intimate snapshot of Indian life along the Rogue River during the turbulent years of initial contact with European cultures.  The site contains artifacts typical of the Indian way of life at that time, together with Euro-American items—such as a coin—which date the site to this interesting and difficult period. 

The Pueblitos of Dinetah:  New Mexico’s National Register-listed Pueblitos of Dinetah, studied in part because of a reservoir construction project, were built by Navahos working alongside Pueblo “refugees” during the late 1600s and early 1700s.  The Pueblitos illuminate an important part of the history of the Navaho people during almost a century of change.  For more information on the Pueblitos, please visit

The Mesa Site:  Archaeologists discovered the Mesa Site, located within Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve, during a Section 106 inventory prior to development of a hardrock quarry in the area.  The Mesa site dates from about 10,000 years ago. Excavations at the site revealed previously unknown human occupation in Arctic and western Alaska during this time period.  Studies at this site have revised our understanding of early Americans in this region and have contributed substantially to the fascinating question of the peopling of our continent.  For more information on the Mesa Site, please visit http://www.ak.blm.gov/ak930/1stamericans.html,

Desert Training Center:   Early in 1942, the War Department concluded that in order to prepare American troops for fighting in the desert of North Africa, the U.S. Army would need an area for training and equipping troops specifically for this type of combat.  General George S. Patton, Jr., commanding general of the 1st Armored Corps, was asked to locate a suitable place in the U.S. desert southwest.  The area Patton settled on included a large area of southeastern California and southwestern Arizona.  This spacious area, renamed the California-Arizona Maneuver Area, or CAMA, provided room for cross-country navigation, reconnaissance, night operations, laying mine fields, and antiaircraft operations.  After the Germans were defeated in North Africa, CAMA was closed in May 1944 and its contents salvaged.  Much of CAMA is today located on BLM lands.  In connection with proposed off-highway vehicle events, desert restoration projects, mineral development, and other multiple-use activities that occur on this large tract of land, BLM undertakes Section 106 inventories in areas that were once part of the Desert Training Center to avoid disturbing any historic remains documenting this important piece of American history.  In fact, these Section 106 inventories have led to the identification of many historic sites and features associated with the Desert Training Center.  For more information, visit http://www.blm.gov/ca/needles/patton.html.

Piedras Blancas Lighthouse:  When BLM acquired California’s Piedras Blancas Lighthouse from the Coast Guard in 2001, the facility was badly deteriorated.  BLM is meeting its Section 106 and Section 110 responsibilities to prevent further deterioration through stabilization and restoration.  Prior to initiating this work, BLM evaluated the potential impact on the lighthouse and surrounding property, and discovered a shell midden that dates to the earliest period of human occupation along this section of the California coast.  The information on this important site will be incorporated into the overall interpretation of the Piedras Blancas area to help explain how the area was used from prehistoric through historic times.  For more information, visit http://www.ca.blm.gov/bakersfield/pbls.

Vignettes in Time:  The Arizona State Museum provides an opportunity for anyone with web access to visit a virtual exhibit of materials recovered from archaeological investigations at two BLM properties, specifically, the Nogales Wash Site Complex and the Silver Bell Mining District.  As part of the Section 106 process, these historic properties were excavated before two parcels of public lands on which they were located were transferred to non-Federal entities.  Even though the sites themselves no longer exist, the public can still enjoy a virtual tour of the archaeological materials that were recovered and learn what the sites revealed.  For more information, please visit

Imperial Sand Dunes:   The Imperial Sand Dunes in southern California host some of BLM’s highest recreational use.  A study of the area, performed in fulfillment of the Section 106 requirement that Federal agencies consult with American Indian Tribes and Native Alaskans to identify Tribal concerns about historic properties, focused on the dunes and adjacent lands as a “cultural landscape.”  The study identified areas of traditional and spiritual importance to local Tribes, which provided an important element in maintaining the cultural identities of these groups.  Because of the sensitivity of these types of resources for the people most closely associated with them, there is no link to a website provided here.

Historic Trails:  BLM-administered public lands in Wyoming are some of the few remaining places where visitors can experience national historic trails in a setting relatively unchanged from the 1800s.  In Wyoming, 60 percent (over 340 miles) of the Oregon, California, Mormon Pioneer, and Pony Express Trails are under BLM stewardship.  Mostly in connection with proposed oil and gas development, and in direct response to the requirements of Section 106, BLM inventories and evaluates the trails themselves, as well as the viewsheds that contribute to their significance, and determines treatment options to lessen the impacts from energy development.  For more information, visit http://www.wy.blm.gov/historictrails.

New Mexico Site Steward Program:  The New Mexico Site Steward Program operates in the spirit of the National Historic Preservation Act to unite volunteers and government officials in the stewardship and preservation of New Mexico’s archaeological heritage.  Currently, these volunteer stewards oversee the protection of sites in northern New Mexico.  Among sites regularly monitored are Casa Mesa Diablo and Big Star.  Casa Mesa Diablo, dating to the 1740s and one of over 200 known Navaho defensive sites, was recorded in July 1973 as part of a Section 106 inventory in advance of a pinyon and juniper eradication project.  This site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and has the potential to answer important research questions relating to what outside pressure may have caused the Navaho to relocate to defensive locations during this time period.  Big Star is an elaborate Navaho-era petroglyph panel located and recorded during a Section 106 inventory for a proposed oil well.  The site features many examples of distinctive Navaho ceremonial symbols, including stars, star patterns, and a star ceiling; the site may be associated with individuals important in Navaho origin myths.  For more information, visit http://www.nmstewards.org/index.htm.


Archaeological and Historic Properties on BLM Lands

BLM State

Approximate Number of  Known Historic & Archaeological Properties
(through 1981)

Approximate Number of Known Historic & Archaeological Properties
(through 2005)













Eastern States












New Mexico



Oregon & Washington
















Many of the sites discovered through the Section 106 process are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places:

BLM Cultural Properties Listed on National Register of Historic Places
September 2005

BLM State

Number of National Register Listings

Number of National Historic Landmarks§

Number of Contributing Properties+

















Eastern States
















New Mexico
























*One listing includes properties in both Arizona and California
**One listing includes properties in both Idaho and Oregon
*** Does not include 5 Chacoan outliers on the United Nations World Heritage List (see http://whc.unesco.org/en/list)
+ National Register of Historic Place listings can include one or more individual cultural properties, and some National Register listings can include several hundred properties.
§ National Historic Landmarks are designated by the Secretary of the Interior



What is Section 106?
In 1966, the United States Congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).  This Act provides a broad platform for historic preservation in the United States.  Section 106 of the Act directs federal agencies to consider the effects of agency actions and programs on historic properties (such as archaeological sites and historic structures) that meet specific criteria for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

Section 106 and the accompanying regulations provide a reasoned process for the government to take into account potential impacts on heritage resources when considering actions that might affect those resources.

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation describes the laws, regulations, and policies regarding Section 106 at http://www.achp.gov/work106.html.

What is the National Register of Historic Places?
Authorized by NHPA, the National Register of Historic Places is the nation’s official list of cultural resources that are worthy of preservation.   Such resources include districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that are significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture.  The National Register is administered by the National Park Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior.  (See http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr for more information.)

What is the Section 106 process?

The Section 106 process includes a series of sequential steps:

  • Inventory and Evaluation: Before a project begins, the government must discover if there are any significant historic properties that could be adversely affected by the proposed action. Inventory usually includes background research, on-the-ground survey, and evaluation of materials found to see if they meet the criteria for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.  The National Register, authorized under NHPA and administered by the National Park Service, is the nation’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation.  (See http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr for more information.)
  • Consultation: Before a project takes place, the government must consult with parties that may have a legitimate interest in the proposed action with regard to historic preservation. These parties include federally recognized American Indian Tribes, State Historic Preservation Officers, and members of the public.
  • Mitigation: Threats to historic properties may be diminished through a number of actions, including redesign of projects to avoid the property, or scientific study—including excavation—of a historic property before a project takes place. The government works with State Historic Preservation Offices and other interested parties to define appropriate mitigation measures.


What are the benefits of this process?
Over thirty years of implementing the Section 106 process have produced enormous benefits for the American people:

  • Increased knowledge about past times, places, and cultures;
  • Preservation of numerous national, regional, and local historic treasures for the interest of current and future generations;
  • Development of museum exhibits for public enjoyment based on excavation of archaeological properties;
  • Protection of traditional and spiritual places for American Indian Tribes and Native Alaskans, contributing to the preservation of ways of life that have existed for millennia on this continent;
  • Increased heritage tourism benefiting local economies; and
  • The evolution of stronger constituencies for historic preservation as a result of the public consultation process.


What is a National Historic Landmark?
Designated by the Secretary of the Interior, National Historic Landmarks are historic places or things (buildings, districts, sites, structures, or objects) that have been included on the National Register of Historic Places and which are nationally significant because they are:

  • Sites where events of national historical significance occurred;
  • Places where prominent Americans lived or worked;
  • Icons of ideals that shaped the nation;
  • Outstanding examples of design or construction;
  • Places characterizing a way of life; and/or
  • Archaeological sites able to yield information.

Today, fewer than 2,500 historic places bear this national distinction.

Last updated: 10-21-2009