Paper No. 75-2
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-5:30 PM
WORKING IN WILDERNESS AREAS AND WILDERNESS STUDY AREAS: THE REMOVAL OF TWO PENTACERATOPS PARTIAL SKELETONS BY HELICOPTER
The San Juan Basin of northwestern New Mexico is well known for the presence of late Cretaceous vertebrate fossils. These fossils are typically found in the Fruitland/Kirtland Formation exposed within the Bureau of Land Management administered Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area and the Ah-shi-sle-pah Wilderness Study Area. Recently researchers from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History conducting paleontological surveys in the area discovered the remains of two separate Pentaceratops skeletons; one a juvenile in the Bisti/De- Na-Zin WA and an adult within the Ah-shi-sle-pah WSA. Since these two specimens were found in protected areas in-depth analysis was required to ensure that the “wilderness characteristics” were preserved within the Bisti/De-Na-Zin WA and that the “wilderness characteristics” within the Ah-shi-sle-pah WSA were not impaired so as to make it unsuitable for future Wilderness designation.
Since the use of mechanized equipment is prohibited in both Wilderness Areas and Wilderness Study Area, the field crews had to stage outside of the protected areas and carry all equipment into both sites. Once jacketed the Pentaceratops specimens each weighed several thousand pounds making removal by hand impossible. We then analyzed the use of a helicopter for retrieval. This method was determined to be the “minimum tool” required to safely remove the specimens while meeting the rules for working in Wilderness Areas and Wilderness Study Areas. Since a helicopter is mechanical and would typically be prohibited, it was allowed for this ‘one time’ use providing it would not physically land on the ground. Because no private sector helicopters were available for this project, the New Mexico National Guard agreed to assist in the removal as part of a training exercise. The day before the airlift members of the BLM, NMMNH, and the National Guard worked together to flip the jackets into cargo nets. The following day the New Mexico National Guard brought in two Black Hawk helicopters, hooked onto the cargo nets, and flew the jacketed fossils outside the protected areas to trucks where they were transported to the NMMNH for preparation, exhibit, and permanent storage.