Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments

October 27, 2017

SVP members may have seen today’s news that President Trump plans to visit Utah in December where he will announce that he will cut the size of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments. Rumors have it that he may reduce them by as much as two thirds their current size. This move would be disastrous for paleontological science and would undermine the progress SVP has made in securing protection for vertebrate fossils on US public lands. We are working with other organizations to monitor the President’s actions and to take action of our own if he pursues this plan.

Last week I visited Grand Staircase to see its paleontology for myself. I have worked in the Cretaceous of Hell Creek, Big Bend, central Kazakhstan, and the Gobi, but I was totally blown away by the richness of the Kaiparowits Plateau. Prospecting for bone there is a matter of steps rather than miles. The Kaiparowits burst onto the scientific scene because of the spectacular mammal discoveries made by SVP members Rich Cifelli and Jeff Eaton, the importance of which was a deciding factor in the Monument’s founding in 1996. In the past two decades the Kaiparowits has yielded one of the most complete Late Cretaceous ecosystems in the world: dinosaurs, lizards, mammals, and plants. And the story is far from complete because new taxa are emerging with every field season.

Kaiparowits Plateau Grand Stircase-Escarante
Photo caption: Surveying the Kaiparowits Plateau with monument paleontologist Alan Titus (photo by David Polly).

You can read more about the paleontology at Grand Staircase in an article published today in the LA Times. http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-pol-trump-national-monuments-20171026-htmlstory.html

SVP wants to ensure that the importance of these monuments for paleontology is known. Three weeks ago about a dozen of our members ran a National Fossil Day booth on the Mall in Washington, DC that featured discoveries from Grand Staircase. Thanks to donations from our members and Safari, Inc., we were able to give away Beasts of the Grand Staircase trading cards and toy dinosaurs that were discovered at Grand Staircase. And thanks to a donation from Gaston Design we raffled a full size Teratophoneus cast to a lucky school. We also ran a booth at the Geological Society of America annual meeting where we were able to reach a broad audience of Earth scientists.

We will keep you informed as the situation develops. SVP is exploring with our partners all legal options to vigorously oppose actions that would impact paleontological science at the monuments.

P. David Polly
President, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology
pdpolly@indiana.edu