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Land of Dinosaurs in Utah Restored as Reserve

Land of Dinosaurs in Utah Restored as Reserve

Thursday, 14 October, 2021 - 05:15
The entrance to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is seen outside of Escalante, Utah, U.S. May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Bob Strong/File Photo

American paleontologists are relieved. Reserves rich in dinosaur fossils located in Utah, amputated by former President Donald Trump, are once again protected. The skeletons of triceratops will rest in peace waiting to be unearthed, according to AFP.

By canceling his predecessor's decision, Joe Biden notably restored the Grand Staircase monument area to its initial dimensions, 7,500 km² instead of 4,000. "Grand Staircase has a worldwide reputation," Jim Kirkland, a paleontologist who explored the region 50 years ago told AFP. "When they cut the boundaries back, some sites that are near and dear to my heart, that I had discovered, were chopped out," he added.

"Close to 10 percent of all dinosaurs known in the world are from Utah," said Kirkland.

For paleontologists, few regions in the world come close to the Rocky Mountains, with the dinosaur treasures buried there. During the Late Cretaceous period -- 100 to 66 million years ago, just before the dinosaurs went extinct -- all kinds of dinosaurs and mammals inhabited the area. Researchers continue to be amazed by the diversity and abundance of dinosaur bones found here, along with how well they have been preserved.

A few scattered vertebrae are not enough to identify a previously unknown species. To do that, scientists need many parts of a skeleton and from different ages.

"So many of our duck-billed dinosaurs are still covered with the impressions of their skin; you can see their scales," said Joe Sertich, dinosaurs curator at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

"The mudstone and sandstone of Grand Staircase preserve some of the best quality dinosaur bones you'll see anywhere in the world," he explained. But the land is also rich in minerals such as coal and it is of interest to the tourism industry and ranchers.

Sertich believes the competing interests could co-exist, but taking away protected status opens the door to theft, vandalism, and destruction.

"When you operate a coal mine... many of these fossils are lost forever," Sertich said.

Scientists say studying dinosaurs' ecosystem provides a better understanding of climate change. "This is the only way we can learn how evolution works on millions-of-year time scales. We learn a lot about the world around us right now," Sertich said. He has been combing the Grand Staircase for fossils for 17 years.

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