Workers in Utah damaged dinosaur tracks dating back 112 million years while rebuilding a boardwalk at a popular tourist site, federal officials said.
The Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite in southeastern Utah near Moab — which contains roughly 200 footprints from at least 10 different dinosaurs — was damaged in January when the Bureau of Land Management failed to take necessary precautions, the agency said in a report released Wednesday.
“Close examination of the trace fossils in this area shows signs of recent breakage and fracturing of the brittle impact rims around a few of the tracks,” the report reads.
Visitors at the site noticed tire tracks from a backhoe and possibly other vehicles just days after the project began in January and notified BLM.
“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,” the report added.
The report found that “areas of avoidance” were not properly flagged and a paleontological monitor was not in place during the project to rebuild a viewing boardwalk at the 2.3-acre area ranked as one of the top 10 dinosaur tracksites in the US.
“Although not all areas of the site impacted were damaged, some trace fossils show minor damage,” the report continued. “This damage should not have occurred. 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.”
The projects now needs to be re-evaluated and BLM called for “areas of avoidance” to be clearly marked moving forward so no additional damage is done.
“When the project continues, better paleontological oversight is needed for all aspects of the project, beginning with a reevaluation of the development plans and [environmental assessment],” the report states.
A revised plan to rebuild the viewing boardwalk, including consultation from a paleontologist, should be completed by this summer, BLM officials told the Salt Lake Tribune.
“To ensure this does not happen again, we will follow the recommendations in the assessment, seek public input and work with the paleontology community as we collectively move forward on constructing boardwalks at the interpretive site,” the federal agency said in a statement.
Some environmental advocates, however, said they were infuriated by the careless backhoe work.
“I’m absolutely outraged that the BLM has apparently destroyed one of the world’s most important paleontological resources,” Patrick Donnelly of the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement. “This careless disregard for these irreplaceable traces of the past is appalling. It really calls into question the Bureau’s competence as a land-management agency.”