The Bureau of Land Management in Utah did not acknowledge it damaged ancient dinosaur tracks outside of Moab in its own project to replace a boardwalk, but it released a statement Wednesday that said work will cease and paleontologists will be present when it resumes.
“Before further construction takes place at the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite, a BLM regional paleontologist will be onsite conducting a resource assessment working with Utah’s state paleontologist,” said BLM Utah spokeswoman Rachel Wootton. “When construction resumes, we will ensure exposed trackways near the walkway construction will be marked and flagged for avoidance, per the environmental assessment and associated decision. At this time, we have no evidence of any damage in the interpreted area, but out of an abundance of caution, a team will be dispatched to assess.”
Controversy blew up over the weekend on social media after several residents, government-employed paleontologists and others got word of the project at Mill Canyon, the damage and other details.
The state paleontologist, Jim Kirkland, said no one in the scientific community knew anything about the plan to replace the wooden boardwalk at the site, which is No. 7 out of No. 12 in the country for the density and diversity of dinosaur tracks.
Instead, in apparent contradiction to its own policies related to the work at Mill Canyon, the BLM used one of its own employees who is a heavy equipment operator to conduct the work, absent any onsite paleontological supervision.
While the federal agency maintains that no tracks in the interpretative site were damaged by the project, Kirkland said there are numerous dinosaur tracks outside that area that were impacted. Witnesses and other volunteers say there were approximately eight tracks that were damaged.
The Mill Canyon site of dinosaur tracks is an internationally recognized bounty in the world of paleontology. Efforts to unearth the tracks and document them were funded not only by the U.S. government but also South Korea and Poland.
Kirkland said the site is a “crown jewel” for Utah, and he has showcased it to many international researchers.