The construction of a Highway 101 bypass in Northern California is destroying cultural landscapes. Village sites, ancestral gathering, hunting, and fishing grounds, and culturally significant species (salmon, elk, oaks, tule) for Pomo tribes in and around the town of Willits (Mendocino County) have been irreparably damaged. At present, mitigation plans for lost wetlands do not include cultural restoration.
It didn’t have to be this way: CalTrans (the California Department of Transportation) should have consulted with more local tribes earlier in the process and in greater depth. All agencies involved – CalTrans, US Army Corps of Engineers, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife – should have cultural specialists, advisors, and representatives on board during every phase of planning and implementation.
Identifying and protecting cultural landscapes should never happen in hindsight. Because by then, it’s too late.
The story of the “Willits Bypass” is lengthy and complex. During our Fall 2015 semester, two San José State University students, Shawn Kathka and Jose Munguia, worked to synthesize the cultural issues associated with the Highway 101 bypass.
The students’ Prezi entitled “California Tribes Sue Transportation Agencies Over Destruction of Sacred Sites” is a one-stop multimedia presentation to help bring newcomers up to speed on the issue. I encourage everyone to read it, weep, and take action.