The Bureau of Land Management in Utah admitted late Wednesday there was “some damage” to ancient dinosaur tracks at one of the most significant paleontological sites in the United States at Mill Canyon when the federal agency pulled out a wooden boardwalk.
“A BLM regional paleontologist conducted a site assessment of the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite and is finishing a final report. He has preliminarily determined that some damage occurred to dinosaur footprints at the project site, and this is unacceptable. The BLM is committed to ensuring that further damage will not occur,” said spokeswoman Rachel Wootton.
Scientific and local uproar erupted in late January after social media posts relayed information of damage that had happened at the site, which includes tracks of at least 10 specimens of dinosaurs and is considered No. 7 out of top dinosaur track sites in the country.
The Bureau of Land Management used one of its own construction engineers in the Moab area to conduct the work and apparently did not flag the site and tracks, which was a provision required under its own analysis.
Observers, including Utah state paleontologist Jim Kirkland, went to the site and observed the damage firsthand, asserting it was completely avoidable.
The BLM subsequently released details that damage to tracks by a backhoe happened in the construction site area, and not at the interpretive site that hosted the boardwalk and information on the more than 200 prints.
That claim spurred a flurry of reaction by scientists and paleontology buffs, including Jeremy Roberts, who filed a demand for an investigation with the Interior Department.
As part of its own investigation, the BLM shut down project work at the site and said it would bring on paleontology experts to conduct an initial assessment.
It used one of its own regional experts as well as Kirkland.
Wednesday’s announcement is the result of those initial previews of what happened, where, why and how.
“Work is stopped at the site until the final paleontological site assessment report is complete, which is expected in three weeks. To finish the project, the BLM will review recommended approaches from the paleontologist and conduct further analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act, which will include a public comment period,” Wootton said. “Before construction resumes, the site will be surveyed, flagged, and the work monitored by an onsite, qualified paleontologist.”
There had been concerns any monitoring would be done by trained volunteers, but that did not come to fruition.
“I welcome the transparency, I welcome the admission, I welcome the mea culpa,” said Roberts. “I’m happy they recognize their mistake and I hope we can work together in the future to protect this site.”