Dinosaur footprints at a popular tourist site have been permanently damaged after a construction crew repeatedly walked and drove over them.
In January, workers were building a new boardwalk at the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite near Moab, Utah when multiple residents complained of their carelessness. The project was stopped, and the US Bureau of Land Management inspected the site, confirming the damage.
“ââWe have carefully reviewed the findings and recommendations in the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite Paleontological Assessment, which confirmed there was minor damage to some dinosaur footprints, primarily north of the main interpretive site,” the BLM wrote in a report dated 8 March. “To ensure this does not happen again, we will follow the recommendations in the assessment, seek public input, and work with the paleontology community as we collectively move forward on constructing boardwalks at the interpretive site.”
Mill Canyon is home to hundreds of tracks from at least ten different species of dinosaurs and other creatures of the Cretaceous Age. The site was discovered in 2009, and has been visited by thousands of tourists from around the world since then.
In service to those tourists, construction began on a new boardwalk over the tracks in January. But residents quickly noticed something was wrong.
“Local members of the public became aware of the project on January 26th and visited the site shortly thereafter, wherein they reported this possible damaging activity to the local BLM,” the report explained. “In addition, other interested parties were contacted via social media and the story went viral over the weekend of January 28th-29th.”
The locals were right – construction workers were irreparably damaging the fossils. One of them was the “slide track” of an ancient crocodile from about 112 million years ago.
The tire tracks are on the sauropod tracks. There is an iguanadon track there, too. They’re literally driving on these. pic.twitter.com/9hLHK2v5LY
— Jeremy Roberts (@JeremyBRoberts) January 30, 2022
“Unfortunately, this trace was repeatedly driven over, as recent tire tracks indicate that this area was impacted by the backhoe and other vehicles,” the BLM’s report says. “This trace fossil appears to have sustained some fracturing damage.”
Other tracks, including dinosaur footprints, were “repeatedly driven and walked over.” The BLM described the overall destruction as “minor,” but irreversible.
“Unfortunately, little can be done to restore broken or eroded tracks left exposed in situ,” the agency said.
#MillCanyonDinosaurTracksite update: Concerned citizens who visited the site today to assess the damage have reported that about 20%-30% of the site has been damaged mostly from @BLMUtah DRIVING A BACKHOE over these rare #fossils to remove a boardwalk.#paleontology #publiclands https://t.co/Dq831iQ9td pic.twitter.com/asKTk0j4YI
— Brian Engh (@BrianEngh_Art) January 31, 2022
As reports of the damage made national news, environmental groups were furious.
“I’m absolutely outraged that the BLM has apparently destroyed one of the world’s most important paleontological resources,” wrote Patrick Donnelly of the Center for Biological Diversity. “This careless disregard for these irreplaceable traces of the past is appalling. It really calls into question the Bureau’s competence as a land-management agency.”
The Independent has reached out to the BLM for comment.