The Black Canyon at Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge in southern Nevada is home to petroglyphs and pictographs that are of major cultural and spiritual significance to Nuwuvi tribes. This summer Nuwuvi, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other partners are finalizing a plan that will showcase the sacred rock writings as well as respect them.

For years, refuge managers have struggled with public use in Black Canyon, which was recently designated an archaeological district under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Management strategies have varied greatly, from complete closure to expanded public access. The canyon includes at least 148 petroglyph panels among 37 archaeological sites across 400 acres. There is no interpretive messaging about the site’s cultural importance, which has resulted in such unanticipated disturbances as bullet holes in petroglyphs and other vandalism.

Building on past successes of cooperative consultation – see July/August 2012 Refuge Update (http://1.usa.gov/1Rog48B) – the Service, Nuwuvi representatives, The Mountain Institute, Portland State University and local stakeholders came together three years ago to tackle complex public use issues related to Black Canyon. That team is putting the final touches on an interpretive and site use plan that will serve as a long-term guide for the development of facilities and for protection of the canyon’s cultural, scenic, recreational and natural resources.

The plan, which likely will include trails, viewing areas and signage to educate the public about the human connections to the delicate landscape, is to be released this summer.

Nuwuvi, which means “The People,” are also known as the Southern Paiute tribes. Their involvement has been vital. “Consulting in partnership with Nuwuvi on this project is so important,” says Kevin DesRoberts, deputy project leader at Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes Pahranagat Refuge. “They bring unique perspectives about how to treat the land in a respectful manner as part of their spiritual and cultural connections. As the original inhabitants and caretakers of this area, Nuwuvi understand and know how important it is to interact with the land and its resources.”

A mutual desire for early and ongoing tribal involvement enabled the team to provide material incorporating a dynamic understanding of living Nuwuvi culture – a reflection of current reality and a connection to ancient wisdom with an eye toward the future.

“Pahranagat [Refuge] is strong and helps shape our cultural landscape. It is made up of delicate resources that are extremely unique to this area and considered special because of what happened here and the power that this place holds,” Nuwuvi representatives say.

Nuwuvi are taught that rock writings represent spiritual beings to be honored in songs, stories and prayers. These beings, according to Nuwuvi, help keep the world in balance. They live and communicate with other beings and resources to increase their great power and wisdom. The images located in Black Canyon play a vital role in weaving the elements of nature together to sustain harmony within the Pahranagat Valley and throughout traditional Nuwuvi homelands.

The team’s plan will include a 20-year vision and five-year action plan for addressing evolving needs at Black Canyon. Funding for initial public use elements likely will be obtained in 2016. Future co-management and stewardship in the canyon will ensure the landscape remains in balance and thrives.



Amy LaVoie is manager at Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge. She was acting manager at Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge from 2011 until earlier this year. Richard Arnold of The Mountain Institute and the Pahrump Paiute Tribe, and Jeremy Spoon of The Mountain Institute and Portland State University contributed to this article.