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1352 W. Olive Avenue
P.O. Box 12616
Fresno, CA 93778-2616
- (559) 444-2409
- (559) 488-4082
- (559) 488-4067
- 711 - TTY
Cultural Resource FAQs
The term “cultural resources” encompasses archaeological, traditional, and “built environment” resources, including but not necessarily limited to buildings, structures, objects, districts, and sites (generally 45 years old or older). Qualified cultural resources professionals, consulting with their peers, Native Americans, subject matter experts, or review authorities as necessary, conduct studies of those cultural resources that could have potential to possess significance and that could be affected by transportation projects.
Federal, state, and local environmental protection legislation contain the same general policy: to preserve the quality of our environment by ensuring that resources are given adequate consideration throughout the course of any project, and by providing protected biological resources with the best protection possible. Because Caltrans must comply with state and federal laws and regulations regarding biological resources, the same principles form the core of Caltrans' general environmental policy as well.
Caltrans employs qualified professional archaeologists, architectural historians, and historians to conduct surveys and evaluations and prepare reports that will be used to comply with appropriate state and federal historic preservation laws and regulations. Some cultural resources studies may also be performed by private companies under contract with Caltrans.
Staff archaeologists conduct and participate in archaeological surveys and excavations. Archaeology is the study of the culture of historic or prehistoric peoples through the excavation and evaluation of sites and artifacts. “Historic” refers to any site or artifact older than 50 years old, as defined by law. In California, “prehistoric” refers to Native American sites and artifacts dating back before European arrival. Caltrans employs archaeologists who specialize in prehistory, history, or both.
Staff architectural historians identify built environment cultural resources (buildings, bridges, structures, objects, districts) and designed landscapes. They evaluate those resources for their local, state, or federal historical significance.
The District Native American Coordinator is responsible for all Native American consultation, as well as documentation of Native American coordination in District environmental documents. During the field reconnaissance and resource inventory stage of environmental studies, the District Native American Coordinator will solicit Native American concerns from any and all available sources.
For the most part, cultural resources studies consist primarily of observations, although minor ground disturbances created by shovel or hand trowel may be required. Any resulting holes would be filled and compacted immediately. If major ground disturbance is necessary for archaeological excavations, rights-of-entry permits will be negotiated specific to the work necessary; potential property disturbances and compensation will be addressed within those permits.
If a “significant” cultural resource is identified on my property, how will my property be affected?
You are encouraged to care for the cultural resources on your property for the value they possess about your local history and prehistory. Specifically, it depends on the type of cultural resource identified. But, no matter the type of resource, it remains your property. Generally speaking, the identification of an important resource on your property will not greatly affect the property‘s value. In some cases, if the resource is a building or structure, maintaining its historical significance can qualify you for tax breaks and incentives (see www2.cr.nps.gov/tps/tax). For the most part, though, you have no state or federal obligation to preserve a resource located on your property.
If you are subdividing your property, building new structures, or otherwise planning an activity that would require a permit from a local, state, or federal agency, you might be required to comply with state or federal legislation, which may require the identification, evaluation, and/or mitigation of effects on the resource present.
If you encounter human remains on your property, you are subject to State Health and Safety Code Section 7050.5, which states that “every person who knowingly mutilates or disinters, wantonly disturbs, or willfully removes any human remains in or from any location other than a dedicated cemetery without authority of law is guilty of a misdemeanor.” Call the county coroner upon discovery of human remains; no further disturbance should occur to those remains until the coroner has made the necessary findings as to origin and disposition pursuant to California Public Resources Code 5097.98.
If a cultural resource is identified on my property, do I have to disclose its presence if I wish to sell?
Your real estate agent should advise you on what you legally are required to disclose when selling your property. It is likely you will be encouraged to disclose the presence of the cultural resource, however it is unlikely it will affect the salability of your property.