Below is a letter written by Larry V. Garvin, Executive Director of the Ho-Chunk Nation, in regard to use of metal detectors on public lands. Efforts are in place to change this policy. The Ho-Chunk Nation has enlisted the help of the Sauk County Historical Society to ensure that existing laws protecting Native American artifacts are not gathered by treasure hunters and sold. Should you want to become part of this advocacy, please contact your local state legislator. A list of state legislators can be found on our website at saukcountyhistory.org.
This is a brief summation of the implications of the new Metal Detector policy issued by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”).While the new policy enhances and strengthens Ho-Chunk Nation’s preservation interests by restricting metal detector use on DNR lands to those uses to recover personal items, its recent promotion is raising significant scrutiny of the policy and the underlying state law by specialized interest groups that could have serious and negative statutory implications to archaeological resources in aboriginal and ancestral Ho-Chunk land, including those in Sauk County.
In brief, the DNR posted a new policy limiting metal detector use on DNR land to recover personal items.The DNR advised us that previous to the new policy, the metal detector users on DNR land often retain the objects or “treasures” found as personal property.As we understand, the Wisconsin Historical Society urged the DNR to invoke the policy to comply with Wisconsin Statutes § 44.47 which reserves the state the right to all field archaeology on state sites and §44.47(5) which reserves the state the title to all objects recovered on state sites. The statutes do provide a permitting process and under such provisions, the DNR posted the new policy on its website.
Special interest groups including hobby “treasure hunters”, local and national metal detector recreational use organizations and metal detector manufacturers have expressed opposition to the DNR policy as an infringement to their ability to observe recreational “rights” to metal detect on state lands.We are unaware of any statute that affords an individual the right to use metal detectors on DNR land, though it should be noted that the statute that restricts the right to engage in field archaeology also provides that “…[t]his section is not intended to burden persons who wish to use state public property for recreational and other lawful purposes or to unnecessarily restrict the use of state public property.”Wisc. Stats. § 44.47.Therefore, the prospective debate will likely center around the balance, if any, of recreational uses of metal detectors on state property and the state’s interests in preserving archaeological resources.
The Sauk County Historical Society (“SCHS”) should be aware that special interest groups may propose legislation that permits metal detecting on land and on submerged surfaces (below water, including popular shoreline areas) and such legislation may include special permitting rights to retain certain objects or even omit the permitting process altogether.