FRESNO, Calif. — Vance Franklin Myers, 35, of Oakhurst, was sentenced for unauthorized digging and removal of archeological resources from public lands. The sentence was handed down by United States District Judge Ana De Alba on Thursday, September 7, 2023.
Myers violated the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (APRA) by illegally excavating a sacred archaeological site. Myers, who pled guilty to two felony ARPA counts, was ordered to serve three- years of probation; pay a fine of $10,000; and pay $10,023.48 in restitution and perform 100 hours of community service. He is also required to make a public statement regarding offenses he carried out on federal property. As part of his probation, Myers is banned from entering or using public lands for recreational purposes during his probationary period. ARPA defines an archaeological resource as “any material remains of past human life or activities which are of archaeological interest…at least 100 years of age” (Title 16, USC, Section 470bb(1).
The illegal excavation, which revealed human remains, disturbed intact archaeological deposits and uncovered artifacts, took place on lands administered by the Sierra National Forest (SNF) near Bass Lake, and was first discovered during the Willow Fire in July of 2015. The site had been under surveillance following the original findings. Additional illegal excavations were discovered by SNF Law Enforcement personnel in August 2016. The subsequent investigation led to Myers’ arrest and eventual prosecution.
Archaeological sites, which provide evidence of past human occupation, are generally non-renewable and, once damaged or looted, are an irretrievable loss to the nation’s cultural history. Once removed or damaged, they cannot be “restored.” Burial sites are sacred to Native Americans. The Myers case sets a new precedent bringing greater awareness that these types of actions are illegal and will be enforced. Any crime committed on federal lands is considered a federal crime and will be prosecuted in federal court.
“Our Mission Statement includes the expectation that we sustain the diversity of this treasured landscape, for present and future generations. We can only accomplish this by respecting the history of what has taken place on the Sierra National Forest, so that it can be preserved for those future generations to appreciate, enjoy and learn from”, said Forest Supervisor Dean Gould.
The effective prosecution of this case occurred through the hard work and dedication of a multi-agency/multidisciplinary team of the United States Forest Service (USFS) Sierra National Forest (SNF) Heritage Resources, Tribal Relations staff and Forest Law Enforcement Officers, local Native American tribes and individuals, the Department of Justice’s Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSA). The case was successfully prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Laurel J. Montoya.