Rare Fossils Discovered on Lands Cut From Bears Ears National Monument

Researchers have discovered what may be one of the world’s richest caches of Triassic period fossils at an extensive site within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument. The team’s initial excavation led to the extraordinary discovery of several intact remains of crocodile-like animals called phytosaurs. The findings were publicly announced at this week’s Western Association of Vertebrate Paleontologists (WAVP) annual conference where researchers warned of a growing threat to their work in the region.

“Based on our small, initial excavation, we believe that this 63-meter site may be the densest area of Triassic period fossils in the nation, maybe the world. If this site can be fully excavated, it is likely that we will find many other intact specimens, and quite possibly even new vertebrate species,” said a researcher, whose team’s 2017 dig was funded by a grant from a special Bureau of Land Management (BLM) program that funds such research on national monuments and other national conservation lands. This funding could be at risk now that the excavation site has been removed from protections due to President Trump’s legally-disputed proclamation to shrink Bears Ears National Monument by more than one million acres.

“It is extremely rare to find intact fossil skulls of specimens from this period,” he said of the three toothy, long-snouted fossils currently being examined at the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm. “It is rarer still to recover fossils that have been looted, which was the case with one specimen that was missing a portion of its skull. We did a little more digging before realizing this site had been looted by someone without a permit for this kind of fossil removal.”

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