They survived intact for 112 million years through scorching summer heat and freezing winters in Utah’s Mill Canyon. But several of the world’s largest and most historic dinosaur footprints were damaged beyond repair earlier this year when a construction crew arrived to build a new promenade for tourists.
The extent of the damage to the footprints – and those of an ancient crocodile crossing in the canyon near Moab – was detailed in a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) report on the January incident released this week. last.
According to the office, the good news is that the damage was assessed as minor and would have been much worse if local residents had not spotted the tire tracks of heavy machinery on the ground, leading to the immediate halt of the project. walk.
But the edge fractures of several of the delicate footprints cannot be repaired at the Mill Canyon dinosaur track site, where at least 10 species of dinosaurs are known to have left more than 200 individual tracks dating to the early Cretaceous. Future freeze-thaw cycles could also widen the cracks, the BLM warns.
Damage was caused by both foot traffic and construction equipment, the report said, as a contractor used a shovel to remove the old boardwalk in the most popular area of the site, seeking to replace it with a new one. new raised platform from which the public could view the tracks.
“As a result, trace fossils were damaged,” the report, written by BLM paleontologist Brent Breithaupt, said. “Unfortunately [one] track has been traveled several times as recent tire tracks indicate this area has been hit by the backhoe and other vehicles. »
Any areas where damage occurred, Breithaupt noted, “should have been flagged to avoid and construction crews should have avoided driving vehicles into the area.”
The boardwalk replacement project is now on hold until at least the summer as the office assesses how to avoid further damage.
“To ensure this doesn’t happen again, we will follow the recommendations of the assessment, seek public feedback, and work with the paleontological community as we collectively progress the construction of boardwalks at the interpretive site,” said the office said in a statement.
The irreparable damage, however, has angered environmentalists. “I am absolutely outraged that the BLM has apparently destroyed one of the most important paleontological resources in the world,” Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement when the incident unfolded. product.
“This reckless disregard for these irreplaceable traces of the past is appalling. This really calls into question the competence of the office as a land management agency.