Bears Ears Follow-up

On Dec. 28, 2016, President Barack Obama used the authority assigned to him under the Antiquities Act of 1906 by Congress to declare a Bears Ears National Monument. Now, most of the public debate surrounding this area has focused on the wealth of ancient sites, artifacts, rock art, and tribal connections to the area. But the paleontological resources of the area are also highly significant (see my accompanying article about my trip to Washington, D.C. here).

It is with great relief that I read the proclamation and saw that paleontology was explicitly called out and protected under the proclamation. Before I got involved in the process no one on either side of the issue had seriously considered paleontology in the region. No matter what happens going forward we know that paleontology in the region will be protected. By explicitly mentioning it in the proclamation, the president has acknowledged that the resources are significant not only to the area but to the country as a whole. We are continuing our research in the area with two aggressive excavations scheduled for 2017 in the Bears Ears, along with continuing high school field camp work.

I am glad that the administration was willing to listen to the concerns of scientists from around the country about this area and the importance of paleontology in understanding its history. Looking forward, this proclamation serves as a framework for future paleontological work in the region. Nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has similar language in its proclamation, which  has enabled a flowering of scientific research across the Grand Staircase. Virtually all of the new dinosaur species coming from that area (more than 95 percent of them) have been described since the Monument was declared and the wording of the proclamation has allowed that to happen. Horned dinosaurs, duck-billed dinosaurs, and young relatives of Tyrannosaurus rex have all been named in the last two decades. Hopefully, with paleontology being singled out and protected in Bears Ears National Monument, a similar explosion in our knowledge of the past will occur here. We at the Museums of Western Colorado will certainly do our part to ensure that happens, but only time will tell for sure what will be uncovered.

Robert Gay

Curator of Education

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