Authorities go diving to seek stolen Utah dinosaur footprint
Published: March 8, 2014 08:45PM
Updated: March 9, 2014 09:53AM
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| Courtesy BLM Jared Ehlers, of Moab, is accused of dislodging a piece of sandstone with a three-toed ancient dinosaur track from the Hell's Revenge jeep Trail in the Sand Flats Recreation Area near Moab. Ehlers is charged under a federal law passed in 2009 to protect paleontological artifacts. The print was stolen near Moab on Feb. 17 or 18. The print is about 1 foot by 2 to 3 feet and was left by a three-toed meat eating dinosaur ó likely an ancestor of the Utah state dinosaur, Allosaurus, experts said.

A break in the two-week search for a stolen dinosaur footprint has led investigators to the depths of the Colorado River.

The footprint is allegedly in the river, where a dive team tried to fish it out Saturday afternoon, according to the Grand County Sheriff’s Office. There was no word Saturday night whether the footprint was found.

Investigators have also identified a suspect in the removal of the print, though the suspect’s name has not been released.

The Utah Department of Public Safety dive team is helping teams from Grand County search the river at the Dewey Bridge, on State Road 128, where the print is believed to have been dumped, according to a Grand County Sheriff’s news release.

The footprint was one of about 20 in the Hell’s Revenge jeeping area near the Sand Flats Recreation Area, just east of Moab. An off-road tour operator took visitors to see the print on Feb. 18, only to find that the rock containing the print was no longer there.

The rock had partly come loose from the ground and appears to have been pried free with pry-bars, said Rebecca Hunt-Foster, Canyon Country paleontologist for theBLM, shortly after the theft.

The BLM had offered a reward for information leading to the identification of whoever was involved in the theft, according to a February news release. Off-road enthusiasts had offered money, too, and the various rewards total at least $9,000.

“It was one of the nicest [tracks]” Hunt-Foster said. The print is about 1 foot by 2 to 3 feet and was left by a three-toed meat eating dinosaur — likely an ancestor of the Utah state dinosaur, the Allosaurus, Hunt-Foster said.

It was created about 190 million years ago, when the Moab area was part of a “shallow oasis,” Hunt-Foster said. The rock with the track likely weighs more than 100 pounds and was probably driven away from the site between Feb. 17 and Feb. 18, Hunt-Foster said.

Kent Green, the tour operator who reported the print’s disappearance on Feb. 18, had seen it during a tour just one day earlier. Green said that the whole community was in an uproar about the theft.

Hunt-Foster described the print as “priceless” and pleaded with the public to share any information that could lead to its return by calling the BLM office.

Taking dinosaur remains from federal lands, whether in the form of fossils or tracks, is a federal crime under protective laws passed in 2009, Hunt-Foster said. It also is illegal vandalism to use a dinosaur print to make a mold from some other substance; many tracks have been damaged by attempts to pour plaster or silicon over a print and pry out the foot’s replica.

mmcfall@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mikeypanda