ST. GEORGE — Charges have been levied against a Bountiful man for the alleged destruction of state trust lands near the vicinity of Fort Pearce, a historical site approximately 15 miles east of St. George near the Arizona border.

Stock image of 5th District Court in St. George, Utah | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Eduardo Seoane, 51, was charged by the Washington County Attorney’s Office for illegal activities on state trust lands causing damages exceeding $5,000.

Law enforcement was advised of excavation work on state-owned property when a citizen made a report, as previously reported.

According to the probable cause statement filed by officers, Seoane was observed by a deputy with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 29, 2023. When interviewed two weeks later, he admitted to prospecting for minerals.

Utah Trust Lands Administration Lead Archaeologist Joel Boomgarden described the scene he walked on after receiving a call to assess the damages. The tunnel he found was made using hand and battery-powered tools.

“I’ve never seen anything like, two feet wide, fifteen feet deep,” he recalled. “When I looked inside I had to use my flashlight to see the bottom of the hole.”

Utah Trust Lands Administration Director of Communications Marla Kennedy told St. George News of the challenges that come with watching for those who cause destruction on 3.4 million acres of state trust lands.

Pictographs at the Fort Pearce site are part of the territory BLM rangers seek to protect, Warner Valley, Utah, April 10, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News

With five employees and one full-time investigator, assistance from other state departments is a necessity.

“We rely a lot on local county law enforcement to help us, such as this case,” she said. “But the main thing people should know is, if you screw with state trust lands, we are coming for you. We will actively prosecute you and we will seek restitution. These are archaeological sites with petroglyphs and historical artifacts, once they are lost — you can’t restore them.”

Boomgarden said the area near Fort Pearce is a huge draw for outdoor enthusiasts due to more than 100 petroglyphs in an area that covers a radius of several miles, also known as Warner Valley.

“It is the rock imagery that draws them,” he said. “They are very clear and plentiful in the area. Of course under the surface, there is archaeological history, surface deposits and unknown history that could have been destroyed, we just don’t know.”

The charges filed against Seoane list an estimate of $19,000 to fix the damages. Boomgarden said the assessment for damages could be greater.

A Washington County Sheriff truck parks on the road’s edge near Snow Canyon State Park, Utah, Aug. 10, 2023 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, St. George News

“There is a lot involved when attempting to fix these damages,” he said. “You can’t just go out there and fill the hole in with dirt. There are laws to follow and permits required, teams of people to perform inspections and inventory the dig. And weeks to prepare before we can even begin.”

Washington County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Darrell Cashin told St. George News the investigation is ongoing and the site is being protected during restoration.

He confirmed two sheriff’s deputies and an officer with the Bureau of Land Management observed the alleged prospector in action.

Although charges have been filed in Utah’s 5th District Court against Seoane, an initial court date has not been set. The Washington County Attorney’s Office did not respond in time for publication of this article.

According to the charges, it is a second-degree felony to “ intentionally, knowingly or recklessly,” remove, extract or destroy land, gravel, soil, vegetation or archaeological resources on government-owned property if the damages exceed $5,000.

Utah law states the penalties for a second-degree felony conviction range from one to 15 years imprisonment and fines up to $10,000.

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