What did Utah win in the expansive lands bill? A new Jurassic park and a bigger, and hopefully better, Goblin Valley.
(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo_
The Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry is now Jurassic National Monument under a historic Emery County lands bill enacted last month by Congress. The spot contains the one of the world's densest deposits of dinosaur bones, mostly from allosaurs.The bill protects more than 1 million acres of public land in Emery County, including the San Rafael Swell, Labyrinth Canyon and Muddy Creek.
In a remote dusty corner of Utah’s San Rafael Swell is a spot where dinosaurs came to die 150 million years ago, their bones piling up in what may have been a seasonal pond. Or perhaps floodwaters deposited hundreds of carcasses there in what is now the world’s densest assemblage of dino bones.
The Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry
has yielded 10,000 to 15,000 bones, including some from at least 46 allosaurus skeletons. The quarry, 20 miles east of Huntington, is now Jurassic National Monument under sweeping public lands legislation
signed recently by President Donald Trump
The site harbors fascinating scientific puzzles because of its preponderance of bones from the mighty three-clawed predator allosaurus, according to University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh paleontologist Joseph Peterson
. Herbivorous animals should always outnumber carnivores, but bones from predators outnumber those from prey by 3 to 1 at Cleveland-Lloyd, where plant-eating camptosaurus, stegosaurus and camarasaurus remains have also been recovered.
Peterson and other paleontologists have spent careers trying to solve this mystery. But, with every clue they uncover, new questions arise.
“We don’t see chew marks on the bones here. We don’t find amphibians,” Peterson said. “How did we get so many allosaurs here? How did the other dinosaurs get there? It throws a fun wrench into the problem of how to interpret this ecosystem. It’s a great outdoor classroom.”
(Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management) Hikers crowd the narrow slots of Little Wild Horse Canyon in the San Rafael Reef. This area will soon be added to Goblin Valley State Park, which is to expand by 6,200 acres under a public lands bill designating wilderness and a new national monument in Emery County.
At 850 acres, Jurassic National Monument is the smallest component of the Emery County Public Land Management Act, championed by Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, and passed by Congress last month as part of a much larger omnibus lands bill.
The Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the more than 1 million acres affected by the bill, declined to make anyone available for an interview for this story. The law directs the agency to produce management plans for Jurassic National Monument and other areas receiving protective status.
Combined with Dinosaur National Monument
farther north and the plethora of fossil finds inside Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
farther south, this new monument helps solidify Utah’s reputation as a prehistoric wonderland.
Utah political leaders, who have long decried presidential national monument decrees, praised the Jurassic designation as one done the “right way,” because it is confined to a small area surrounding the scientifically significant objects to be protected and was made with congressional approval, as opposed to “unilateral” White House action.
The bill also directs the Interior secretary to “convey” 6,261 acres to the Utah Department of Natural Resources for an expanded Goblin Valley State Park
, tripling its size by adding heavily used public lands nearby to the park famous for its eerie, precariously balanced formations.
While wilderness advocates and paleontologists applaud the bill’s passage, they are concerned about whether the BLM has the resources to adequately manage the designated lands and protect their resources.
“Is [Jurassic] going to be a monument in name only?” Peterson asked. “Are there going to be funds for improved interpretation, facilities and a paved road?”
In addition to the monument, the bill also designates the most wilderness — lands where permanent structures, roads and mechanized equipment are prohibited — in Utah since the 1984 law that established the High Uinta and several other wilderness areas on national forests.
The Emery lands bill mirrors one for Washington County passed in 2009 and is seen as a possible template for resolving contentious turf battles in other southern Utah counties.
To celebrate the historic legislative achievement, Curtis will host an “awards assembly”
Wednesday in Castle Dale as part of a five-stop town hall tour next week through southern Utah. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox; the governor’s deputy chief of staff, Mike Mower; and state Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, will join Curtis for a Q&A session at Emery High School from to 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Among its key provisions, the Emery bill:
• Establishes 660,000 acres of wilderness in unroaded scenic places such as Big Wild Horse Canyon, Muddy Creek, Nelson Mountain, Rhino Head, Turtle Canyon, Eagle Canyon Horse Valley and Sids Mountain, more than tripling the amount of BLM holdings designated as wilderness in Utah.
• Designates the 217,000-acre San Rafael Swell Western Heritage and Historic Mining Recreation Area.
• Protects 63 miles of the Green River under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Specifically it designates as “scenic” the 49-mile stretch downstream from Bull Bottom through Labyrinth Canyon to the Wayne County line.
• Directs Interior to convey 640 acres to the city of Emery for public recreation, 320 acres to the county to expand the Huntington Airport, five acres to the sheriff’s office for a substation, and five acres to the county for an information center at Buckhorn Wash.
• Authorizes the exchange of around 100,000 acres of state trust lands inside the newly designated wilderness and recreation areas for BLM land elsewhere in the state.
(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) The moon rises over Goblin Valley State Park, which is to expand by 6,200 acres under a public lands bill designating wilderness and a monument in Emery County.
As a concession to industry, the bill “released” 17,000 acres of wilderness study areas, meaning these lands are returned to multiple use and may now be mined.
Grazing will be allowed to continue in the San Rafael Swell and the new wilderness, but no new oil and gas leases or mining claims will be issued on these lands.
Goblin Valley State Park is to triple in size to about 10,000 acres, but it is unclear whether the added acreage will be given to the state or managed by the state in partnership with the BLM. Either way, visitors to the heavily used trails and dispersed camping areas outside the park soon can expect to pay Goblin’s entrance fee.
The bill adds trailheads used for Bell and Little Wild Horse canyons to the park, but not all of the canyons themselves, which are among some of Utah’s most popular hiking destinations, according to Jeff Rasmussen, director of the Utah Division of State Parks.
“I’m confident it will be some type of partnership with Emery County and the BLM for improved recreational opportunities, improved amenities, improved access and increased staffing to make sure the resources are protected,” he said. “I see an opportunity to solve some of the problems there. It’s a free-for-all. Recreation is getting so busy and intense with people going everywhere. We are hoping to solidify some of those camping areas and add some amenities. These are details that are going to take some time to work out.”
Possibilities include new motorized and mountain bike trails and yurts, which have been hits at other state parks.
“People are looking for these opportunities to stay at our parks,” Rasmussen said, “and we can’t build them fast enough.”
This prospect pleases former County Commissioner James Nelson, a retired teacher and farmer in Ferron, who said state management of this area is “desperately needed.”
“On Memorial Day, you walk single file with a thousand other people up Little Wild Horse Canyon. It’s not a wilderness experience. You have so much use there. You will have county, state and federal agencies working together to make Goblin Valley a better experience,” said Nelson, who now serves on the county’s Public Lands Council.
But in less-used areas, unprepared visitors get lost.
“How about spending some money to put up some signage? We need more camping spaces and toilet facilities,” said Nelson.
He also hopes the federal government will invest in Cleveland-Lloyd, which he considers a national treasure.
“There are bones from this quarry all over the world. I mean literally — they’re even in Brazil,” he said. “There are trails out there you can hike around and see dinosaur bones in rocks. Why not make it a monument and get some federal funds so you could develop it more and open it longer?”
The quarry will be open this year from April 18 to Sept. 2, Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, free for kids under 16. The site, located up a 12-mile dirt road from State Road 10, has a visitors center. Two aluminum structures rest atop the quarry, which has yielded so many paleontological riches.
Peterson spends part of every July at the quarry, searching for new specimens and clues to what happened there 150 million years ago. He and his students camp nearby.
“It would be great to have water on-site and buildings to sleep in,” he said. “It would be awesome to have more facilities. The metal buildings over the quarry exposure could use updating.”
The more pressing questions for Peterson are whether science will continue unimpeded at the quarry and whether the site will be adequately protected as visitation increases.
“Will there be more people on hand to maintain it and keep an eye on things, keeping people from stealing or doing graffiti or other things they shouldn’t be doing?” Peterson asked. “I’m not sure what to make of it [the monument status] yet because a lot of the questions we have from a scientific perspective we are not hearing about.”