The Big Dry Arm Spring Storm in the Great Basin Red Cliffs Desert Tortoise Reserve March Morning on the Platte River After a Spring Storm in the Great Basin Hunting Upland Birds at Kingsbury Lake Waterfowl Production Area Sandhill Migration on the Platte River Badlands Sunrise The Green River at Ouray NWR North Park Lupines Moab Sunset
Refuge System - Cultural Resources
Mountain-Prairie Region
Graphic button showing the 8 state mountain prairie region

Cultural Resources


Information icon Jennifer Strickland, USFWS Pubic Affairs Officer. Photo by Angela Burgess, USFWS.Source

What are Cultural Resources | Is Everything That’s Old Important? | Cultural Resources | Dedicated to a Duck | Cultural Resource Laws, Regulations and Policies | Open / Close All

  • Baca---Antelope-Springs-Site---2013

    Baca NWR - Antelope Springs Site (2013)

  • Baca---Barn-at-Main-Headquarters---2013

    Baca NWR - Barn at Main Headquarters (2013)

  • Baca---Hearth-and-Manos---2006

    Baca NWR - Hearth and Manos (2006)

  • Browns-Park---Rock-Art---2009

    Browns Park NWR - Rock-Art (2009)

  • Browns-Park---Tipi-Ring-and-Hearth---2009

    Browns Park NWR - Tipi Ring and Hearth (2009)

  • Fish-Springs---Barn-Owl-Cave---2010.

    Fish Springs NWR - Barn Owl Cave (2010)

  • J. Clark Salyer - Brandt Homestead - 2010

    J. Clark Salyer NWR - Brandt Homestead (2010)

  • Fort-Niobrara---Old-Museum---2013

    Fort Niobrara NWR - Old-Museum (2013)

  • Lee-Metcalf---Grube-Barn---2007

    Lee Metcalf NWR - Grube Barn (2007)

  • Lee-Metcalf---Whaley-Homestead---2007

    Lee Metcalf NWR - Whaley Homestead (2007)

  • Lost-Trail---Rock-Art---2007

    Lost Trail NWR - Rock Art (2007)

  • Monte-Vista---Scott-Miller-Site---2011

    Monte Vista NWR - Scott Miller Site (2011)

  • Monte-Vista---Scott-Miller-Site---2012

    Monte Vista NWR - Scott Miller Site (2012)

  • Rocky Mt. Arsenal - Cold War Equipment

    Rocky Mt. Arsenal NWR - Cold War Equipment

  • Seedskadee---Trail-Signs---2009

    Seedskadee NWR - Trail-Signs (2009)

  • Arapaho---Hampton-Barn---2006

    Arapaho NWR - Hampton-Barn (2006)

Ancient Traces in Wild Places

Map of the 8 state Mountain-Prairie Region.

Alongside the tracks of the bison, the nests of the piping plover, and the burrows of the black-footed ferret are fossilized remains of prehistoric creatures, tools and fires of ancient peoples, and historic structures from our recent past. While the lands of the National Wildlife Refuge System were established for wildlife conservation, they also offer a rare opportunity to preserve paleontological remains, archaeological sites, and historic places.

The eight states that comprise the Mountain-Prairie Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System extend from the Canadian border to the desert southwest. The cultural resources found in the Region’s mountains and prairies represent 12,000 years of humans on the landscape, as reflected in prehistoric campsites, early stone tools and pottery, the collapsed remains of homesteader cabins, Depression-era fire towers, and remnants of the Cold War. This is a legacy that we are just beginning to understand, but the discovery and protection of these cultural resources will assure that the past is a part of future generations.

Dedicated to a Duck: How the Duck Stamp Act, Depression-era work programs, and a commitment to lasting conservation shaped the National Wildlife Refuge System and the National Fish Hatchery System.

What are Cultural Resources? »

Cultural Resources are sites, buildings, structures, objects, and locations that are the result, or are of importance to specific types of human activities, and are generally over 50 years old. Below is a list of types of cultural resources with examples that might be found on Mountain-Prairie Region national wildlife refuges.

Building | Structure | Object | Site | District | Traditional Cultural Property | Sacred Sites | Designed Historic Landscape | Rural Historic Landscape | Museum Property

Building - Back to section top
A building, such as a house, barn, church, hotel, or similar construction, is created principally as a human shelter. "Building" may also be used to refer to a historically and functionally related unit, such as a courthouse and jail or a house and barn.

Administrative facilities

Structure - Back to section top
The term "structure" is used to distinguish from buildings those functional constructions are usually for purposes other than creating human shelter.

Fire towers
Picnic shelters
Water control structures
Corral system
Railroad grade

Object - Back to section top
The term "object" is used to distinguish from buildings and structures in that objects are primarily artistic in nature or are relatively small in scale and simply constructed. Although it may be, by nature or design, movable, an object is associated with a specific setting or environment.

Farm equipment
Railroad cars

Site - Back to section top
A site is the location of a significant event, a prehistoric or historic occupation or activity, or a building or structure, whether standing, ruined, or vanished, where the location itself possesses historic, cultural, or archeological value regardless of the value of any existing structure.

Prehistoric archaeological sites including campsites, hunting or butchering sites
Tool manufacture sites
Historic battlefields

District - Back to section top
A district possesses a significant concentration, linkage, or continuity of sites, buildings, structures, or objects united historically or aesthetically by plan or physical development.

Administrative headquarters complexes
Depression-era work camps (CCC/WPA) Camps
Ranch complexes
Groups of sites

Traditional Cultural Property - Back to section top
A traditional cultural property is a property that is eligible for inclusion in the National Register because of its association with cultural practices or beliefs of a living community that

(a) are rooted in that community's history, and
(b) are important in maintaining the continuing cultural identity of the community.

Locations associated with the traditional beliefs of a Native American group about its origins, cultural history, or the nature of the world.
A location where a community has traditionally carried out economic, artistic, or other cultural practices important in maintaining its historical identity

Sacred Sites - Back to section top
Sacred site refers to a specific, discrete, narrowly delineated location on Federal land that has been identified by an Indian tribe, or appropriately authoritative representative of an Indian religion, as sacred by virtue of its established religious significance to, or ceremonial use by, an Indian religion. Their management is addressed by Executive Order 13007 signed on May 27, 1996.

Some carins (rock piles marking a specific spot or placed in a designed arrangement)
Some mounds (a constructed pile of soil or other natural materials marking a specific location or built to a designed shape, may contain burials)

Designed Historic Landscape - Back to section top
A designed historic landscape is defined as a work that has significance as a design or work of art; an association with a designer, gardener, or landscape architect of note; a historical association with a significant person, trend, event, etc., in landscape gardening or landscape architecture; or a significant relationship to the theory of practice of landscape gardener or landscape architecture.

Depression-era administrative complexes

Rural Historic Landscape - Back to section top
Rural historic landscape are a geographical areas that historically has been used by people, or shaped or modified by human activity, occupancy, or intervention, and that possesses a significant concentration, linkage, or continuity of areas of land use, vegetation, buildings and structures, roads and waterways, and natural features.

Mining district
Ranch or farm with associated buildings, structures, and land

Museum Property - Back to section top
Museum property includes artifacts, objects, and materials that are preserved for their contributions to archaeological and historic research; cultural and ethnographic values; aesthetic and interpretive purposes; or association with important historic events and people.

Prehistoric stone tools and ceramics
Historic photographs
Documents concerning the history of a refuge
Historic tools or equipment

« Back to the top

Is Everything That’s Old Important? »

Although there are many ways to define importance when considering human activities and the remains of those activities, Federal agencies generally evaluate cultural resources based on the eligibility of a resource for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). For a resource to be determined eligible for the NRHP, and therefore considered a historic property, it must have both significance and integrity.

Significance | Integrity | Location | Setting | Design | Materials | Workmanship | Feeling | Association

Significance - Back to section top
The significance of a resource can be defined and explained through an evaluation of it within its prehistoric or historic context. Prehistoric or historic contexts are those patterns, themes, or trends by which a specific event, property, or site is understood and its meaning made clear. This context is important because nothing in history occurs in a vacuum; everything is a part of larger trends or patterns.

When evaluated within its historic context, a resource must be shown to be important for one or more of the following National Register criteria:

  1. Events: It is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.
  2. People: It is associated with the lives of persons significant in our past.
  3. Construction/Design: It embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction; represents the work of a master or possesses high artistic values; or represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction (as in a grouping of buildings that are not individually significant but together represent a pattern or design that is important).
  4. Ability to Yield Data: It has yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.

Integrity - Back to section top
Integrity is the ability of a resource or a group of resources to convey a sense of the past as it relates to one or more areas of significance. Integrity comes into play once significance has been established because it is necessary to determine if the resource retains the identity for which it is significant. If a resource has been altered to such an extent that it no longer reflects its history then the integrity has been compromised.

The evaluation of integrity is often subjective, but it must always be grounded in an understanding of a resource's physical features and how they relate to its significance. Resources which have been substantially altered may not retain sufficient integrity to reflect their original character. Integrity may be diminished by a single major change (a new story has been added to a building, an archaeological site has been bulldozed) and/or the cumulative effect of numerous minor changes (doors and windows have been replaced, there has been sever erosion over many years on an archaeological site).

Location - Back to section top
Refers to the particular place where the historic resource was constructed or the specific place where the historic event took place. It involves relationships that exist between the resource and place.

Setting - Back to section top
Refers to the general physical environment of a historic property. It refers to the character of the place in which the resource played its historical role.

Design - Back to section top
Refers to the combination of elements that create the form, plan, space, structure and style of a property.

Materials - Back to section top
Refers to the physical elements that were combined or deposited during a particular period of time and in a particular pattern or configuration to form a historic property (a site, building, structure, object, or district).

Workmanship - Back to section top
Refers to the physical evidence of craftsmen's labor and skill in constructing or altering a building, structure, object, or site.

Feeling - Back to section top
Refers to the quality an historic resource has in evoking the aesthetic or historic sense of a past period of time.

Association - Back to section top
Refers to the direct link between a property and an important historic event or person.

« Back to the top

Cultural Resources »

Dedicated to a Duck: How the Duck Stamp Act, Depression-era work programs, and a commitment to lasting conservation shaped the National Wildlife Refuge System and the National Fish Hatchery System.

Over 1700 archaeological resources and 400 structures or buildings have been recorded in the Mountain-Prairie Region. The majority of these were recorded as a part of the review process under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). This Act requires Federal agencies to consider the effects their undertakings have on historic properties (NHPA - The Law and NHPA - The Regs). NHPA is just one of several laws, policies, and executive orders that guide the Service’s identification, evaluation, and management of cultural resources. Approximately 50 paleontological locations have been documented in the Region, including internationally significant paleontological remains from the Hell Creek formation in west central Montana.

Note that comprehensive surveys to identify archaeological and historic sites have been completed for only a small percentage of Refuge System lands.

Examples of regional overviews, cultural resources, and projects:

« Back to the top

Dedicated to a Duck »

Dedicated to a Duck: How the Duck Stamp Act, Depression-era work programs, and a commitment to lasting conservation shaped the National Wildlife Refuge System and the National Fish Hatchery System.

This is the remarkable history of the devastating 1930s Depression in the United States, which brought about a unique convergence of events leading to a significant conservation success story that continues today in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Federally-sponsored Depression-era programs were implemented to provide work for unemployed civilians, improve environmental conditions, and set the nation on a more positive path. The programs, designed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to rebuild the country’s resources, had a profound effect on each of the federal agencies that participated.

The Bureau of Biological Survey, which in 1940 became the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, benefited greatly from the infusion of labor and funding for the establishment of wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries, infrastructure construction, and the refinement of methods of wildlife management and habitat restoration. The programs were successful in combating poverty, not only for the work program participants but also the communities back home and surrounding the refuges. The legacy of these Depression-era work projects endures today as an important part of the Service’s history, and many of the buildings and structures survive as key functioning elements of these public lands.

This is the story of the 1933-1942 Depression-era projects, the men who built them, and the preservation potential of the remaining buildings and structures on U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service lands unfolds in four states: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska.

Cover of: Dedicated to a Duck: How the Duck Stamp Act, Depression-era work programs, and a commitment to lasting conservation shaped the National Wildlife Refuge System and the National Fish Hatchery System. Cover shows logos of the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The top half of the cover features four black and white images, with a color image of the 1935 federal duck stamp, featuring art of two ducks landong on a pond. The top-left image shows a dozen men stand in a line on land they worked on; top-right shows two people installing windows on a building; bottom-left shows men constructing the frames of a house; bottom-right shows geese in the foreground in front of a man in a block of houses. Text on bottom coincides with the images: top left: Lower Souris / J. Clark Salyer National Wildlife Refuge, North Dakota – Undated, CCC boys rescuing ducks along the Souris River.; Top right: Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, Nebraska – 1936, CCC crews building the duck hospital.; Bottom left: Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge, South Dakota – 1938, CCC crew building the camp education building.; Bottom right: Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Montana – ca. 1948, CCC camp with visiting Canada Geese.

« Back to the top

Cultural Resource Laws, Regulations, and Policies »

Antiquities Act of 1906 | American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 | Archeological and Historic Preservation Act of 1974 | Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 | Historic Sites Act of 1935 | National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 | National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 | Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 | National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 | Reservoir Salvage Act of 1960 | Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments | Indian Sacred Sites | Preserve America

Photo of a wetland. Credit: Robert Appleton
Wetland. Photo Credit: Robert Appleton

The following is a brief summary of some of the laws and regulations concerning U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) responsibilities for cultural resources. It is not intended to be comprehensive and additional information is available on the Service web page (

Antiquities Act of 1906 as amended - Back to section top
Public Law 59-209; 34 Stat. 225; 16 USC 431-433
This is the earliest and most basic legislation for protecting cultural resources on Federal lands. It provides misdemeanor-level criminal penalties to control unauthorized uses. Appropriate scientific uses may be authorized through permits. Materials removed under a permit must be permanently preserved in a public museum.

American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, as amended - Back to section top
Public Law 95-431; 92 Stat. 469; 42 USC 1996
This act (AIRFA) resolves that it shall be the policy of the United States to protect and preserve for the American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, and Native Hawaiian the inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise their traditional religions, including access to religious sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and freedom to worship through ceremonial and traditional rites.

Archeological and Historic Preservation Act of 1974, as amended - Back to section top
Reservoir Salvage Act 1960, PL 86-523; 74 Stat. 220, 221; 16 USC 469; PL 93-291;
88 Stat. 174; 16 USC 469
This act provides for the preservation of historical and archaeological data that might otherwise be lost as the result of Federal construction projects or Federally-licensed or assisted programs.

Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, as amended - Back to section top
Public Law 96-95; 93 Stat. 721; 16 USC 47Oaa et seq.
Often referred to as ARPA, this act is primarily a permitting and enforcement law that has felony-level penalties for excavating, removing, damaging, altering, or defacing any archaeological resource more than 100 years old, on public or Indian lands, unless authorized by a permit. It prohibits the sale, purchase, exchange, transportation, receipt, or offering of any archaeological resource obtained in violation of any regulation or permit under the act or under any Federal, State, or local law.

Historic Sites Act of 1935, as amended - Back to section top
Public Law 74-292; 49 Stat. 666; 16 USC 461
The Historic Sites Act declares national policy to identify and preserve nationally significant “historic sites, buildings, objects and antiquities.”

National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, as amended - Back to section top
42 USC 4321, and 4331 – 4335
NEPA states it is the Federal government's continuing responsibility to use all practicable means to preserve important historic, cultural, and natural aspects of our national heritage. It also instructs Federal agencies to prepare environmental impact statements for each major Federal action having an effect on the environment. Federal agencies are encouraged to coordinate compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act with the requirements of NEPA.

National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended - Back to section top
Public Law 89-665; 80 Stat. 915; 16 USC 470
NHPA is perhaps the premier legislation that governs cultural resource work on Service lands. The act creates the National Register of Historic Places and extends protection to historic places of state and local as well as national significance. It establishes the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, State Historic Preservation Officers, Tribal Preservation Officers, and a preservation grants-in-aid program.

Section 106 directs Federal agencies to take into account effects of their actions ("undertakings") on properties in or eligible for the National Register, and Section 110(a) sets inventory, nomination, protection, and preservation responsibilities for Federally-owned cultural properties. Section 110(c) requires each Federal agency to designate a Preservation Officer to coordinate activities under the act.

Section 106 of the act is implemented by regulations of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, 36 CFR Part 800. The Department of the Interior criteria and procedures for evaluating a property's eligibility for inclusion in the National Register are at 36 CFR Part 60 (

Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, as amended - Back to section top
Public Law 101-601; 104 Stat. 3048; 25 USC 3001 et esq.
NAGPRA establishes the rights of Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations to claim ownership of certain cultural items, including human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony, held or controlled by Federal agencies and museums that receive Federal funds. It requires agencies and museums to identify holdings of such remains and objects and to work with appropriate Native Americans toward their repatriation. Permits for the excavation and/or removal of cultural items protected by the act require Native American consultation, as do discoveries of cultural items made during Federal land use activities. The Secretary of the Interior's implementing regulations are at 43 CFR Part 10.

National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997 - Back to section top
Public Law 105–57
This act outlines general management goals for the Refuge System, including protection and interpretation of cultural resources.

Reservoir Salvage Act of 1960, as amended - Back to section top
16 USC 469-469c
This act extended the Historic Sites Act of 1935. It gave the Department of the Interior, through the National Park Service, major responsibility for preservation of archaeological data that might be lost specifically through dam construction.

Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments - Back to section top
Executive Order 13175, 2000
This Order reiterated the federal government’s obligation to a government-to-government relationship with Indian Tribes, and directed federal agencies to institute procedures to consult and collaborate with tribal governments.

Indian Sacred Sites - Back to section top
Executive Order 13007, 1996
E.O. 13007 requires Federal land managing agencies to accommodate access to and ceremonial use of Indian sacred sites by Indian religious practitioners and to avoid adversely affecting the physical integrity of such sacred sites. It also requires agencies to develop procedures for reasonable notification of proposed actions or land management policies that may restrict access to or ceremonial use of, or adversely affect, sacred sites.

Preserve America - Back to section top
Executive Order 13287
“It is the policy of the Federal Government to provide leadership in preserving America's heritage by actively advancing the protection, enhancement, and contemporary use of the historic properties owned by the Federal Government, and by promoting intergovernmental cooperation and partnerships for the preservation and use of historic properties.”

« Back to the top


The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American People.
Last modified: July 19, 2021
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
flickr youtube