Archaeologist-turned-lobbyist Sees Warnings In Ruins

April 02, 1991|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff writer

Steve Carr is a firm believer in learning from the mistakes of the past.

The Anasazi Indians once thrived along the Grand Canyon, building cities that rivaled their European counterparts. Abruptly, the Arizona tribe and its culture disappeared 600 years ago.

"Was it a natural disaster? Was it pestilence? Was it some man-made environmental disaster?" wonders Carr, a National Forest Service archaeologist and Annapolis native. No one knows for sure.

Carr, who has spent the past decade combing the Kaibab National Forest for clues, believes the Anasazi brought their demise upon themselves.

The fear that modern man could repeat their mistake has brought Carr, 37, back to Maryland the last two years, lobbying the General Assemblyto pass new environmental protections.

"The past is no different than the future," said Carr, legislative liaison for the Severn River Association. "What killed them could end up killing us."

Needing firewood and construction materials, Carr believes the Anasazi cut down all the nearby trees. Without forest cover, their underground water supplies disappeared, forcing them to migrate.

"They built these incredible cities -- incredible cities as good as any European cities at the time," Carr said. "Now, they're gone."

Carr, who fell in love with the Kaibab forest during a 1978 cross-country bicycling trip, has lived and worked there ever since. As an "archaeological technician," he scours sections of the forest targeted for logging and maps the historic sites, which logging companies must then avoid.

Butheavy snow brings life along the Grand Canyon to a halt during the winter. So, unable to traverse the snowy ground, let alone see it, Carr returns each December to his childhood home on the banks of the Severn.

Two years ago, Carr volunteered to chair the legislative committee of the Severn River Association, which represents about 90 neighborhoods within the 70-square-mile watershed.

"He really took hold of the job," said association president Stuart

Morris. During the 90-day session, "he literally lives at the legislature. I think he spends more time there than some of the legislators."

Carr spent much of his time the last two years pressing lawmakers to extend the Severn's protected status as a scenic river to nearby waterways in Whitehall and St. Margaret's. Association members hope the bill will winbetter enforcement of state sediment control laws in those areas.

So far, the effort has been unsuccessful. Carr thought his bill had the votes to escape the House Environmental Matters Committee this year. But last-minute opposition from the state Department of Natural Resources defeated it.

Carr said he suspects opposition from the State Highway Administration has been behind the bill's demise.

"Every year the boundary bill leaves a nasty taste in my mouth," Carrsaid. "We can't ever get (state officials) to admit what this is really about -- the State Highway Administration. Every year they take adifferent tack against it."

Breaking ranks with other environmental groups, the association did not support the proposed Chesapeake Bay growth controls or the statewide reforestation bill. Carr said the bills were not thought through. Lawmakers sent both bills to summer study.

"From now on, it's going to be a real battle to pass environmental legislation," Carr said. "We had better do our homework and know the statewide effects, or we'll have our a---- handed to us like we did this year."

Although Carr describes his experience with democracy as frustrating, he has managed to maintain his sense of humor.

"I think democracy is great, but the bottom line is you can't take this stuff too damn seriously or you'd just explode," said Carr, who returns to Arizona on May 6.

To take his mind off the political maneuvering in Annapolis, Carr has written a pulp novel about a band of archaeological terrorists marauding through in the Grand Canyon. He has one chapter in the 40-chapter book to go.

"It's a trash novel, but I think it's going to be a best seller," Carr said. "It's got everything you'd want -- sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll."

Barring his being summoned to Hollywood to put his book on film, Carr said he wants to play a greater political role. He hopes to market himself as a professional environmental lobbyist as well as an advocate for the Severn.

And, in 1994, the registered independent says, he will return permanently to Annapolis to campaign for a District 30 delegate seat.

"These other guys have been down here so long, they're bored," said Carr, whose platform includes a limit on time in office. "We need some new blood."

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