US agency acknowledges damage to 112 million year old dinosaur tracks in Utah

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112-million-year-old dinosaur tracks have been erased from history in southeastern Utah by heavy machinery used to rebuild a boardwalk in the popular tourist area, US officials say.

Damage at the Mill Canyon dinosaur track site near Moab includes several of the footprints that fractured around the rims, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said in a report recently.

The agency says the damage is minor, but a nonprofit group that monitors the popular tourist site disagrees.

Construction equipment provided by the office, including a backhoe, had “drove directly over fossil dinosaur tracks, permanently destroying up to 30% of the site,” according to a letter from the Center for Biological Diversity. non-profit.

The agency also said an area where a prehistoric crocodile traversed a mudflat appeared to have been repeatedly traversed by the backhoe, causing fractures, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The site is considered one of the country’s most important dinosaur track areas, containing 200 footprints of at least ten different species, including those of sharp-clawed raptors like the three-toed theropods, as well as sauropods long-necked and ancient relatives of the crocodile.

Over 200 distinct dinosaur and ancient crocodile footprints have left their mark at the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite

A backhoe and parts of a torn boardwalk at the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite near Moab, Utah, contributed to damage to several ancient dinosaur footprints in January.

A backhoe and parts of a torn boardwalk at the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite near Moab, Utah, contributed to damage to several ancient dinosaur footprints in January.

The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, a nonprofit scientific organization, sent an open letter to the Bureau’s state director in Utah, Greg Sheehan, saying it fears “irreparable and preventable damage” has occurred. been caused and that more caution could have been taken if “qualified paleontologists had been on your staff”.

The Center for Biological Diversity also expressed concern, sending a cease-and-desist letter to Sheehan, outlining grounds for legal action if construction did not stop.

In response, the federal agency said the project should be reassessed, the area clearly marked and work crews informed of where they can and cannot go.

The report also noted that the agency is expected to fill a vacant regional paleontologist position that has been vacant since 2018.

“To ensure this doesn’t happen again, we will follow the recommendations of the assessment, seek public feedback, and work with the paleontological community as we collectively progress the construction of walks at the interpretive site,” said the agency.

The site contains traces of Postosuchus, one of the ancient ancestors of the crocodile shared with the dinosaurs

The site contains traces of Postosuchus, one of the ancient ancestors of the crocodile shared with the dinosaurs

Deinonychus, a genus of theropod dromeosaurid dinosaur, was also in North America during the early Cretaceous period, around 115 to 108 million years ago.

Deinonychus, a genus of theropod dromeosaurid dinosaur, was also in North America during the early Cretaceous period, around 115 to 108 million years ago.

This revised report should be done this summer.

“It’s good that we prevented more damage,” said Jeremy Roberts, among those who asked the Bureau of Land Management to put the project on hold. “But it will continue to plague the state until we have a paleontologist.”

Concerns about construction in the area had previously existed with an elevated boardwalk being built at the site in 2015. Used by thousands of visitors each year, the walkway “would ensure that the public would not step onto the tracks and would also improve safety an assessment regarding plans to build a new metal and concrete pathway read in October 2021.

“The reconstruction of the walkway has the potential to disrupt existing paleontological resources,” the assessment added, referring to the need for regular inspections to “safeguard the paleontological resource.”

“There would be no risk to the pathway from construction activities,” the assessment added.

Paleontologists and nonprofits focused on fossil preservation have raised concerns in the United States.  Bureau of Land Management on the agency's construction projects in the area, seeing them as a potential threat to the tracks

Paleontologists and nonprofits focused on fossil preservation have raised concerns in the United States. Bureau of Land Management on the agency’s construction projects in the area, seeing them as a potential threat to the tracks

In response, the United States.  The Bureau of Land Management said it would revise its plans to build an all-new walkway.  Pictured: The Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite walkway, covering 1.80 miles

In response, the United States. The Bureau of Land Management said it would revise its plans to build an all-new walkway. Pictured: The Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite walkway, covering 1.80 miles

The Bureau’s field office in Moab did not consult professional paleontologists or even notify the Gastonia chapter, which had helped maintain and monitor the site. The apparent damage reported was caused by a crew of demolition contractors with no on-site supervision.

The first concern about the construction crew’s work at the site arose in late January when a former Mill Canyon volunteer steward, Susan Sternberg, noticed a backhoe at the site before contacting Lee Shenton, branch president. Moab from Friends of Utah. Paleontology.

The chapter president and other geologists pointed to the lack of consultation with a paleontologist, although they did not yet know the impact of construction damage to fossils.

“There is damage and there is no reason there should be damage,” Utah State paleontologist Jim Kirkland said in his report provided to Deseret News. “It’s not completely destroyed as some suggested, but I was pretty scared.”

He added that the damage caused could have been completely preventable.

Shenton, who helped document the damage, said he noticed the boardwalk – usually shaped like a horseshoe – was dissembled and parts of it were set aside above the fossils. He also observed tire tracks on the ground that had smothered ichnofossils, which are fossil records of biological activity, including those of three-toed theropods, long-necked sauropods and primitive relatives of crocodiles.

Fossils at the site can be easily damaged due to extreme weather conditions, humans walking on them, or even dirt.

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