What may perhaps be the world’s greatest cache of Triassic-era fossils was discovered by scientists at Utah‘s Bears Ears National Monument, which recently lost its protected status. Despite vociferous opposition from the Native community and environmentalists, President Trump issued an order in December that shrunk the Monument, which was established by President Obama in late 2016, by 85 percent. This monumental fossil discovery is a reminder of what we stand to lose if protections and support for public land are dismantled. Looting, oil and gas extraction, and loss of essential research funding are just some of the potential consequences that researchers are contending with at Bears Ears and other formerly protected sites.

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The site itself represents a rare, rich look into our planet’s distant past.“Based on our small, initial excavation, we believe that this 69-yard site may be the densest area of Triassic period fossils in the nation, maybe the world,” paleontologist Rob Gay said. “If this site can be fully excavated, it is likely that we will find many other intact specimens, and quite possibly even new vertebrate species.” Unfortunately, Gay’s team is at risk of losing funding from the Bureau of Land Management, which supported the team’s 2017 dig but no longer has jurisdiction over what was Bears Ears.

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Despite previous protections, the fossils were not entirely unscathed. “It is extremely rare to find intact fossil skulls of specimens from this period,” Gay said. “It is rarer still to recover fossils that have been looted, which was the case with one specimen that was missing a portion of its skull. We did a little more digging before realizing this site had been looted by someone without a permit for this kind of fossil removal.” Nonetheless, the protection granted through National Monument status is key to protecting sites of scientific, cultural, and scenic importance. “That President Trump acted to revoke protections for these lands is outrageous,” said Scott Miller of the Wilderness Society, “and that he did so despite the Department of the Interior knowing of this amazing discovery is even more shocking. I hope the courts will act quickly to restore protections for Bears Ears National Monument before any more fossils are looted from the area and lost to science.”

Via Washington Post

Images via The Wilderness Society