Rare Fossils Discovered on Lands Cut From Bears Ears National Monument
Researchers, led by paleontologist Rob Gay, have discovered what may be one of the world's richest caches of Triassic period fossils at an extensive site within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument. The team's initial excavation led to the extraordinary discovery of several intact remains of crocodile-like animals called phytosaurs. The findings were publicly announced at this week's Western Association of Vertebrate Paleontologists (WAVP) annual conference where researchers warned of a growing threat to their work in the region.
"Based on our small, initial excavation, we believe that this 63-meter (69-yard) site may be the densest area of Triassic period fossils in the nation, maybe the world. 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," said Gay, whose team's 2017 dig was funded by a grant from a special Bureau of Land Management (BLM) program that funds such research on national monuments and other national conservation lands. This funding could be at risk now that the excavation site has been removed from protections due to President Trump's legally-disputed proclamation to shrink Bears Ears National Monument by more than one million acres.
"It is extremely rare to find intact fossil skulls of specimens from this period," Gay said of the three toothy, long-snouted fossils currently being examined at the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm. "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."
Upon discovering the missing skull fragment, Gay contacted the BLM's district paleontologist and learned that a fossil matching the specimen's description and missing the portion Gay had discovered had been surrendered by an unpermitted collector to federal officials in Arizona. Using paleontological techniques, the team matched the fossil to the recent Bears Ears findings.
"This may be one of the only times a recovered fossil has been traced all the way back to the location where it was looted," Gay said, adding that having so much of that fossil specimen still intact on-site was key to the identification.
"Within the paleontology community, the size of this site and the potentially large number of specimens buried there represent an extraordinary opportunity to expand our knowledge of species that lived during the Triassic period," said Tracy J. Thomson, coordinator of the WAVP conference. "There is an incredible amount of work yet to be done and we hope that paleontological sites like this one will get the protection they need before more of our prehistoric past is forever lost to looting or irreplaceably damaged by mining in the region."
The looted fossil skull was taken from the excavation site before Bears Ears was designated a national monument in late 2016 in an effort to protect sites and other objects of scientific interest from such looting. Now that the Trump administration has slashed the size of Bears Ears, the site and its contents are once again at risk of looting and other vandalism, said Scott Miller of The Wilderness Society. He added that the entire area also could be subject to threats from mining and off-road vehicle use, both of which have a history of destroying paleontological resources in the area.
"While a discovery of this magnitude certainly is a welcome surprise, protecting such resources was the very purpose of Bears Ears National Monument," said Miller. "That President Trump acted to revoke protections for these lands is outrageous, 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."
How Trump’s Dismemberment of Bears Ears Was Driven by Racism, Grave Robbery and Mormon Beliefs… https://t.co/SNIgLp9s98— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1512598513.0
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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