My nominee – make that nominees – for the next Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest book are the people on a work crew from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The BLM is an agency within the United States Department of the Interior (DOI), which is responsible for administering federal lands.
Which means this story is about our tax dollars at work.
Here’s the BLM website:
You’ll notice that the BLM’s website doesn’t say anything about their mission including damaging “public lands.”
But that’s exactly what the BLM crew did in January 2022, though it became known only recently.
This crew had an assignment: replace a boardwalk for viewing the dinosaur fossils in Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite in Utah.
Here’s Mill Canyon:
Here’s the BLM Mill Canyon website:
Here’s an example of a boardwalk:
I’m betting it’s pretty great to visit the Mill Canyon site, stand on a boardwalk and look down at dinosaur tracks like these:
And imagining the dinosaurs that were living in what we now call Utah.
Dinosaurs that, according to an April 5 article in the Washington Post, included “ankylosaurs and theropods” like some of these:
Yes, that would pretty great.
Unfortunately, according to the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trailhead Interpretive Site website, “Access to the site is currently restricted”:
That’s the aforementioned boardwalk replacement project.
The project completion date is not mentioned on the website, because it’s unknown.
The completion date is unknown due to this:
“…in January, a construction crew working to replace a boardwalk for viewing the dinosaur fossils left marks of their own, damaging some of the specimens and even repeatedly driving over one of them, according to an assessment dated March 8 but made public last week by the Bureau of Land Management, which staffed the crew.”
This crew that did the damage wasn’t a bunch of know-nothing outside contractors hired by the BLM:
They were BLM employees.
Here’s that 14-page March 8, 2022 assessment by Brent H. Breithaupt, BLM Regional Paleontologist, Wyoming State Office:
Breithaupt notes that “…crews drove a truck, trailer and a backhoe with a forklift onto the site to disassemble the old boardwalk…” and, “…that a trace fossil left by a prehistoric crocodile ‘was repeatedly driven over,’ resulting in fractures. At another area containing footprints from theropods, ornithopods and sauropods, there were tire tracks and signs of heavy foot traffic…”
According to this January 31 story on a Salt Lake City TV station:
The story says that on January 30, Salt Lake County resident Jeremy Roberts traveled to Moab to take photos of the damage – here are two of them:
A third Roberts photo shows one print believed to be more than 116 million years old, shattered:
“It lasted 116 million years until the BLM decided to drive on it,” Roberts said.
In his report, Breithaupt said “that because the BLM did not consult paleontologists on the plans, crew did not know which areas to avoid.”
Wait a minute.
“Did not consult paleontologists”?
Breithaupt works for the BLM. He’s the BLM Regional Paleontologist in the Wyoming State Office.
And the BLM brainiacs who developed this project never thought to call Breithaupt and say, “We’re going out to the Mill Canyon site to replace a boardwalk and we’re bringing a truck, trailer and a backhoe with a forklift. Do you maybe want to meet with the crew and, um…sort of point to what they shouldn’t to drive over and damage?”
Maybe the BLM figured Breithaupt was in Wyoming, too far away?
Well, how about calling Jim Kirkland, a Utah Geological Survey paleontologist?
Or how about calling the Lee Shenton, president of the Moab chapter of Utah Friends of Paleontology? Utah has its own Friends of Paleontology, for Heaven’s sake!
Or maybe the BLM could have called their “Utah Featured Partners,” located right there on the BLM website:
Or – how about Jeremy Roberts, the Utah guy who took the above pictures of the damaged areas? Jeremy’s 14-year-old son Kenyon was with him that day, and said,
“The only place on earth where we have running tracks of a dromaeosaur-type dinosaur – raptors. It’s devastating what they have done.”
A 14-year-old knew better.
But that BLM crew didn’t.
So I vote for the BLM crew being included in the next edition of…
Why, some may be wondering, does the Mill Canyon damage matter?
Here’s what I learned from my research:
It matters because the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite is one of the largest and most important Early Cretaceous (about 112 million years ago) tracksites in the world, with more than 200 tracks and trace fossils of at least 10 different animals.
It matters because theropods, sauropods, ornithopods (pictured), ankylosaurs, birds and crocodiles are some of the tracks and fossils. Some of the animals were unknown to the area before being spotted here.
It matters because the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite is ranked as a top-10 dinosaur tracksite in the U.S.
And it matters because – as yet another expert who wasn’t consulted – put it:
“They’re not making any more dinosaurs, so these tracks in some ways are like an endangered species – and we really need to protect them like one.”
Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity, summed this fiasco up succinctly:
“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.”
Back in late January, when the Salt Lake City TV station asked the BLM about the damage, the BLM responded with a statement that said in part,
“During that effort, heavy equipment is on location, but it is absolutely not used in the protected area.”
Then, on February 9, according to this and other articles:
The BLM walked back their late January statement as follows:
“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. Work is stopped at the site until the final paleontological site assessment report is complete, which is expected in three weeks.”
You know what’s “unacceptable?”
The article also said,
“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.”
Dinosaur fossils that survived for 112 million or more years…
Damaged – some, perhaps, destroyed – in a matter of hours by humans from BLM who apparently ignored the BLM’s “own analysis.”
Cost to us taxpayers?
Cost to the Mills Canyon Tracksite?
small no comfort that the BLM also said it would take public input and work with paleontologists before resuming construction of the new boardwalk.
Now, after the damage has been done and made public…
Now, the BLM will work with paleontologists on a paleontological site!
Heads-up to the BLM:
Before your crew starts rolling into Mills Canyon again with their truck, trailer and a backhoe with a forklift…
Call Kenyon Roberts.
He’s 14, but clearly has more brains than all of you put together: