PALEONTOLOGICAL FIELDWORK IN AND AROUND UTAH’S GRAND STAIRCASE-ESCALANTE NATIONAL MONUMENT: LOGISTICAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES
Conducting paleontological fieldwork in an area as extensive and remote as GSENM presents several logistical challenges. In this largely roadless terrain, fieldwork is constrained by the ability to transport all equipment and supplies to field sites on foot. Excavation equipment is generally limited to easily transported hand tools, thereby limiting excavation techniques and (potentially) access to some specimens. Labor-intensive strategies for transporting heavy jackets using ropes and sleds have been utilized for collecting large vertebrate specimens in remote areas. In addition to extremely limited vehicle access, exposures of the Wahweap and Kaiparowits occur largely within regions designated as Wilderness Study Areas, further complicating the potential for mechanized excavation and hindering transport of specimens and equipment. In spite of these difficulties, recent work has yielded abundant, highly significant, well-preserved fossil vertebrate remains, including new dinosaur taxa.
In light of the regulatory and political realities of working in a place like GSNEM, paleontologists must work directly with Monument administrators in developing strategies for conducting surveys and excavations while simultaneously minimizing environmental impact. Highly significant and unique specimens that lie exposed on the surface face serious threats from natural erosion, as well as theft and vandalism. Collaborative efforts by paleontological researchers and monument administration significantly augment our collective ability to locate and preserve globally significant fossil resources before they are lost forever.