NPS Paleontology Research Vol. 2


Any student of science discovers early in his/her career that much remains to be understood. Endless hours of literature review reveal a history of human sacrifice in order to gain understanding of the natural and physical world. Sometimes scientists are rewarded with a profound discovery. However, more typically the devoted practitioner provides more modest contributions. Often the work of an individual may go unrecognized from some time.

In the early 1840's a young employee of the American Fur Company, named Alexander Culbertson, traversed the American plains in search of beaver. A keen eye and good sense prompted Culbertson to collect a few "petrifications" that he encountered in the Dakota badlands. The ancient remains were eventually turned over to another insightful individual named Hiram Prout. In 1846 Prout, a St. Louis physician, published an account of the fossil jaw bone. This report quickly gained world-wide recognition and helped to initiate the first period of fossil exploration in the American west. Nearly 150 years later, we have come to realize the significance of Culbertson's actions as they relate to the early history of vertebrate paleontology in this country and the irony that ties Prout's specimen to the "badlands" that will later become a national park.

Fossils, synonymous with "paleontological resources" in government circles, are exceedingly common within units of the National Park System. To date, over 100 national parks containing significant paleontological resources have been identified. Collectively, fossil pollen, leaves, wood, bone, teeth, and tracks, preserved in the parks, provide a detailed record for the history of life in the same manner as the Civil War history is available in the Battlefield Parks.

The abundance of fossils in parks has provided tremendous challenges to the National Park Service (NPS) in terms of management and protection. The lack of adequate and specific federal legislation related to fossils has left Interior Department agencies with little guidance and limited sources of funding to support paleontological resource programs. The flourishing relationship that currently exists between the NPS and paleontologists was not always so well established.

Progress over the last decade, in defining the NPS role in management of paleontological resources, has rapidly evolved into an extremely ambitious program. This success can be attributed to a few specific factors including:

(1) increased levels of communication and education that were initiated through the NPS Paleontological Resources Conferences at Dinosaur National Monument (1986), Petrified Forest National Park (1988), and Fossil Butte National Monument (1992). Additionally, specific symposia sessions organized at the North American Paleontological Convention in Chicago (1992) and at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting in Albuquerque (1993) have furthered the development of a communication network for park paleontology;

(2) establishment of the NPS Natural Resources Management Guidelines (NPS-77). This document, for the first time anywhere, provided guidelines for paleontological resources management (Chapter 2, p. 155-175). Not only are objectives and planning alternatives defined, but NPS-77 goes beyond to affirm that, "Paleontological research by the academic community will be encouraged and facilitated ...";

(3) support by the NPS with the publication of paleontological research in "Park Science" and within the NPS Natural Resources Technical Report Series;

(4) dedication and endurance of paleontologists conducting research projects within the parks. These are the individuals who intuitively understand the significance of park fossils and work, (often without NPS funding), to assist park management better understand their resources.

In an attempt to illustrate the diversity of paleontological research projects conducted within the national parks, the "NPS Paleontological Research Abstract Volume" (Technical Report NPS/NRPEFO/NRTR-93/11) was produced in 1993. In this publication over 75 research abstracts were presented reflecting projects in 27 different NPS units. This publication greatly increased awareness about the significant work being conducted in parks and has served as at catalyst to further research. Clearly, the opportunity to produce the first publication exclusively dedicated towards NPS paleontological research was extremely important. It provided an outlet for information exchange that may not have occurred otherwise and a format that would be suitable to both scientists and land managers.

The suggestion to produce a second paleontological research volume including short scientific research papers was repeated by many individuals receiving and contributing to the Abstract Volume. There were obviously many potential paleontological research papers that needed to find a home. Hence, a proposal to publish a volume of NPS Paleontological Research mini-papers was submitted and accepted.

This "National Park Service Paleontological Research Volume" has been produced as a companion volume to the, "National Park Service Paleontological Research Symposium", at the Geological Society of America, Rocky Mountain Section Annual Meeting, in Durango, Colorado (May, 1994).

I would like to extend my gratitude to Emmett Evanoff for originally suggesting the organization of the symposium in Durango and his efforts, along with Jack Ellingson, in ensuring the meetings success.

Thanks very much to Lindsay McClelland and Anne Frondorf for all of their guidance and energy in the proposal and preparation of this publication. The NPS Paleontology Program is well represented in Washington by Lindsay and Anne. Special thanks to Donna O'Leary and Jean Matthews, from the National Park Service Publications, for their continuous support in producing publications highlighting paleontological research.

Gary Cummins (GRCA) and Dave McGinnis (FOBU) have both made tremendous contributions to promote the success of the NPS Paleontology Program. As superintendents of fossil parks, both Gary and Dave have transformed dreams into reality and plans into action through bold and creative management. They both share a contagious level of enthusiasm that sparks the teams around them. Although I have not worked directly with Dr. Robert Schiller (RMRO), I understand that he is another important supporter of the NPS Paleontology Program and his efforts are also greatly appreciated. As always, I am grateful to the support, patience and understanding from my wife Linda, and children Sarah, Bethany, Luke and Jacob.

It is to Stan Robins (BADL) that this volume is dedicated. Stan is about the nearest thing that I have come across that fits the definition of "hero". His efforts and sacrifices exhibited towards the protection of paleontological resources are unrivaled and unrecognized. His professionalism and dedication truly exemplifies the image of the NPS ranger. Someday, those who advocate and fight to achieve greater fossil protection legislation will learn about the contributions of a humble and caring ranger from Badlands National Park.

Finally, through the combined efforts of those men and women mentioned above, along with many others, a solid foundation has now been firmly established for the NPS Paleontological Program. Many research questions remain to be explored within the parks. Clues lie quietly buried within park sediments awaiting discovery. Clearly parks are not merely beautiful and scenic places to visit, but they can often provide tremendous research opportunities to scientists.


Vincent L. Santucci

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