For the more information about the geologic resources of the National Park Service, please visit https://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/.
What are paleontological resources?
A paleontological resource, or fossil, is any evidence of ancient life preserved in a geologic context. Examples include:
- footprints and trackways
- an organism's burrow
Why does the National Park Service monitor paleontological resources?
- Fossils are non-renewable which means they are irreplaceable pieces of the past. Once a fossil is gone, it is gone forever.
- Paleontological resources provide educational and scientific opportunities for visitors and paleontologists.
- Monitoring Book
- Resource Facts
- Case Study
Geological Monitoring Book
Vital Signs Monitored
- Erosion (geologic factors)
- Erosion (climatic factors)
- Catastrophic geohazards
- Hydrology and bathymetry
- Human access and public use
Monitoring In Situ Paleontological Resources (PDF - 789KB)
Paleontological resources have great scientific and educational value. Fossils connect us to the history of life, past climates, and ancient landscapes. The actual fossil remains are, of course, important to study but paleontologists also gather information from the surrounding geologic context (type of rock, specific layer, other plant and animal fossils nearby, etc.). The context provides the story to go along with the remains.
Visitors to national parks where fossils have been discovered have an opportunity to interpret a fossil's ecological context by observing fossils in the same place where those animals and plants lived millions of years ago. Fossils also provide clues about how organisms responded to ecosystem changes in the past-important information for today's changing world.
The National Park Service monitors paleontological resources and the associated geologic context to provide educational and scientific opportunities for visitors and paleontologists of this and future generations. The National Park Service does not collect every fossil that is discovered. Generally fossils are left in the ground and monitored unless they are rare, particularly well preserved, or of scientific or educational value.
NPS Paleontological Resource Facts
There are at least 231 units of the National Park System that preserve fossils either in the rocks of the park, in the park's museum collections, or in a cultural resource context.
14 NPS units were established wholly or in part to preserve fossils.
- Agate Fossil Beds National Monument (Nebraska)
- Bering Land Bridge National Preserve (Alaska)
- Channel Islands National Park (California)
- Death Valley National Park (California and Nevada)
- Dinosaur National Monument (Colorado and Utah)
- Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument (Colorado)
- Fossil Butte National Monument (Wyoming)
- Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument (Idaho)
- John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (Oregon)
- Joshua Tree National Park (California)
- Parashant National Monument (Arizona)
- Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona)
- Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve (Alaska)
- Zion National Park (Utah)
Monitoring Paleontological Resources in the National Park Service
Case Study Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah
More information coming soon...
- Geologic Monitoring Book, Chapter 8 - Monitoring In Situ Paleontological Resources (PDF - 789KB)
- Paleontology in the National Parks
- National Fossil Day™
- NPS Tour of Park Geology - Fossils
Last Updated: January 03, 2017