Fossilized dinosaur tracks in Utah that are estimated to be 112 million years old were damaged beyond repair earlier this year by a construction crew.
The crew used heavy equipment to remove a boardwalk at one of the most popular sites at Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite, about 15 miles from Moab. The plan was to remove the boardwalk and replace it with an elevated viewing platform.
In the process, however, both foot traffic and heavy machinery repeatedly damaged dinosaur tracks as well as an area where a prehistoric crocodile crossed a mudflat, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. As a result, the rims of some of the tracks have been fractured.
“Because no paleontological survey was done and previous documentation was not reviewed, areas of avoidance were not properly designated,” Brent H. Breithaupt, U.S. Bureau of Land Management regional paleontologist, wrote in a report after assessing the damage. “Areas were not flagged for avoidance nor was a paleontological monitor present during the removal of the boardwalk. As a result, many areas of the track-bearing unit were impacted, and some tracks and traces were damaged.”
A Historic Site
Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite is known for hundreds of dinosaur tracks made by at least 10 species of dinosaurs. Visitors can take a self-guided tour to look at the tracks.
“This site is one of the largest and most diverse tracksites known from the Early Cretaceous time period in North America,” according to the Bureau for Land Management (BLM). “The Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite contains more than 200 individual tracks, including tracks from long-necked herbivorous dinosaurs, several types of carnivorous dinosaurs (including sickle-clawed ‘raptors’), and crocodiles.”
It must be noted that “dinosaur footprints are protected under federal law by the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act of 2009,” the BLM points out.
“Dinosaur footprints are a natural, irreplaceable part of America’s heritage,” the BLM continues. “Please treat these resources with respect.”
Some Good News
The good news, such as it is, is that the damage is considered minor and it would have been much worse if local residents hadn’t alerted officials.
Even so, the damage is done and the tracks cannot be repaired.
“Although not all areas of the site impacted were damaged, some trace fossils show minor damage. This damage should not have occurred,” according to Breithaupt’s report. “In addition, driving on these surfaces may have increased natural weathering and erosion of these areas, as the track-bearing surface is a brittle surface that is naturally degrading.”
A Time To Pause
“Even though the overall damage to the site was minimal, had the project not been stopped, it is likely that much greater damage would have occurred with increased construction activities,” Breithaupt continued. “When the project continues, better paleontological oversight is needed for all aspects of the project, beginning with a reevaluation of the development plans.”
Importantly, although the BLM’s construction project has been temporarily paused, the Center for Biological Diversity has sent a cease-and-desist letter to the BLM’s Utah office to halt construction in the area, demanding more oversight.
“BLM has caused permanent and irreparable damage to a globally unique paleontological resource and any further activity at the site risks further loss,” according to the letter. “BLM must consult with appropriate paleontological experts to immediately stabilize the site, and provide for protection from use by visitors.”
To learn more about traveling to see both fossilized human and dinosaur tracks, be sure to read