A Utah paleontology buff filed a complaint Friday with the Office of Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Interior over damage at one the country’s most scientifically significant collection of dinosaur tracks just outside of Moab at Mill Canyon.
Jeremy Roberts said he is worried the Bureau of Land Management will continue to flout the law and its own policies when it comes to proceeding with a project to replace a wooden boardwalk at the site.
Controversy erupted last weekend after local residents say they discovered the damage and observed heavy equipment parked on one of the dinosaur tracks, as well as scattered planks from the boardwalk discarded over tracks more than 100 million years old.
Jim Kirkland, Utah’s state paleontologist, visited the site last weekend, observed the damage to some dinosaur tracks and started making phone calls.
The Bureau of Land Management, which received funding to replace the boardwalk, noted in its own analysis of the project that dinosaur tracks would be flagged and appropriately marked to avoid damage when work began.
Instead, it appears damage to some of the tracks happened outside of the “interpretative,” site, which critics like Kirkland and Roberts say is inexcusable and totally unnecessary.
“They keep talking about the interpretative site and ignoring the rest,” Roberts said. “We’ve seen eight total (tracks) that were damaged where the heavy equipment was.”
The Bureau of Land Management issued a statement earlier this week that it had ceased work on the project pending a site analysis by a government paleontologist.
Roberts fears that a site analysis by paleontologists will just be a rubber stamp after an email he received from the Moab office’s field director that indicated volunteers will be on site to observe the construction work in an independent fashion.
BLM spokeswoman Rachel Wootton said Friday the agency had brought in its regional paleontologist, Brent Breithaupt, who has done work on the site since 2010 and is at Mill Canyon documenting the dinosaur tracks. In addition, Kirkland is also on site, she said, and no work will resume until they get recommendations from Breithaupt.
Roberts remains skeptical but said Breithaupt’s involvement gives him some assurance.
“I think it is wonderful that they brought in Brent. It is wonderful because he has worked on the site. He is professional and very well respected,” Roberts said.
He emphasized, however, that he worries the paleontologists presence at the site is just for “show” and work will continue without proper safeguards because the BLM is already invested in the project to build the raised concrete trail.