I am a scientific illustrator who contributed artwork for the interpretive signage at the world-class Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite north of Moab. I had the unparalleled pleasure of visiting this amazing site after its excavation and again after the BLM installed a visitor trail in 2015.
I was shocked to learn that the Bureau of Land Management damaged significant portions of the site last week when workers drove a backhoe over the fossil footprints of dinosaurs that walked through this area some 112,000,000 years ago.
I’ve since discovered that the BLM plans to replace the existing visitor trail after filing a 2021 environmental assessment that involved no paleontologists: a surprising decision for a popular site built to preserve and interpret fossils. The original trail was installed with materials hand-carried onto the site and supervising paleontologists ensuring the safety of the tracks. There was no need to use a backhoe to remove the existing trail, and the decision to do so resulted in the destruction of irreplaceable public resources.
As stated conditions of approval, all tracks near the boardwalk should have been flagged for avoidance before work began, and construction vehicles were to remain in a prescribed area to minimize damage. Reports and photographs posted by concerned citizens between 1/28 and 1/30/2022 show that this did not happen. Several tracks were badly damaged by vehicles driving over and parking on top of them, and it is estimated that 20-30% of the track bearing surface was damaged.
The BLM has failed in its responsibility to protect the resources at this site. Through the botched and careless implementation of its own under-reviewed initiatives, it betrayed the public trust and damaged or destroyed numerous significant fossils under its care.
Work at the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Track site should be halted until a new environmental assessment, including detailed implementation and remediation plans, can be made with the cooperation and oversight of paleontologists familiar with the resources and requirements of the site. Additionally, a full and open investigation should begin immediately into how this destruction was allowed to happen, with appropriate measures taken to ensure this level of carelessness does not continue in the future.