Denver Post is reporting that the US Army wants to use a major fossil site for bombing practice. The Picket Wire Canyonlands, in the Commanche National Grasslands, is included in a series of maps the Army has drawn up for increasing its ordinance ranges.
The landscape of southeast Colorado also crawls with history, but time may be running out on public access to the past as Fort Carson considers acquiring the land for war training.
This secluded valley is home to one of North America’s richest dinosaurs finds – more than 1,300 individual tracks; 35 sites have yielded bones.
“The great thing about this site is that it’s here to see, and it’s free for the public,” said U.S. Forest Service paleontologist Bruce Schumacher, leaning against a rock after wading across the Purgatoire River – the River of Lost Souls, as French explorers first called it.
Schumacher planted his bare feet near the beachball-sized tracks of a brontosaurus left 150 million years ago.
“The history here is just layered on itself,” he said.
But every map proffered by the Army has included Picket Wire Canyonlands in the Piņon Canyon Maneuver Site.
Karen Edge, Fort Carson’s Piņon Canyon outreach coordinator, did not return telephone calls for comment on the future of the Canyonlands.
This is not the first time that the Army has used fossil lands, and even the fossils themselves, as targets for bombing, according to Adrienne Mayor of the Dino-L list. She writes:
Sad sense of deja vu hearing about the situation at Fort Carson, Colorado, where the Army plans to aquire the fossil-rich Picket Wire Canyonlands and use it for “war training” within their Pinyon Canyon Maneuver Site.
Consider what happened to the abundant remains of Titanotheres and other magnificent White River fossils in the South Unit of the Badlands in South Dakota:
Badlands National Monument was established in 1939, outside of the reservation boundary. But in 1976, the Park?s size was doubled by the controversial addition of the Stronghold Unit, (even though it was part of the Pine Ridge Lakota Sioux Reservation, by treaty since 1868). National Park Service literature explains how that happened. During World War II, the US Air Force took over more than 300,000 acres of land from the reservation, land that contains abundant remains of Titanotherium and other large vertebrate fossils. Beginning in 1942 and continuing until 1968, the Stronghold area was used as a huge aerial bombing range by the Air Force. Old wrecked cars were collected and painted bright yellow, then scattered throughout this badlands area as targets for the bombers. The Air Force also used plows to create gigantic bulls-eye targets, 250 feet across, carved into the prairie mesas.
But the favorite bombing targets were the bleached bones of huge, extinct mammals eroding out of the badlands cliffsides. This comes from the official NPS literature distributed at the Park Center about the Stronghold Unit. According to the NPS literature, the skeletons of the largest fossils in the Badlands, the elephant-sized Titanotheres (which Othniel Marsh had named Brontotheres, “thunder beasts”) were very noticeable, ?gleaming bright white from the air. These skeletons were commonly targeted by the bombers.? The US Air Force and, later, the National Guard gunners, deliberately blew to smithereens the fragile bones of great animals that had roamed the earth 40 million years ago. ?Hundreds of fossil resources were destroyed in the bombing efforts,? according to the Park Service information sheet.
Today, the entire Stronghold Unit of the Badlands National Park is littered with dangerous live ammunition, ranging from machine gun bullets to very large unexploded bombs. This ammunition is still on the surface and buried in the dirt and continually erodes out of the cliffs where fossils emerged. Park Service officials warn that ?unexploded ordnance (UXO) of all shapes and sizes? poses a grave hazard throughout the Stronghold Unit, and could detonate at any time.
Americans who live in the region, or who merely prize fossils, should protest about this. It takes a lot longer to make a fossil than a war, as one of the Dino-L posters noted.
Late note: I’m told that the phone number for the Ft. Carson Colorado Commanding General’s Hotline is: (719) 526-2677. I trust this is not a state secret.
Later note: Both PZ and CorrenteWire make the claim that this is in part due to fundamentalism in the Air Force. Maybe, maybe not. I tend not to ascribe to out and out stupidity that which can be ascribed to ordinary idiocy. It’s enough that it’s a military organisation.
However, CorrenteWire makes a point I should have thought of myself – this is exactly analogous to the behaviour of the Taliban in blowing up those Buddhas. Remember them? When the Taliban showed itself before the world as barbaric?
Update: I just want to promote the comment by Dustin below to the main post:
As I mentioned over on Pharyngula, I head down to the canyon fairly frequently. The canyon houses rock art, Spanish missions, and (of course) the tracks. The USDA and Forest Service have been working on the river bed to minimize erosion, and now we’re about to let the same guys who carve “Kilroy was here” into Babylonian ruins drive their tanks over the site.
If I could ask everyone to visit the protest site:
and also to write members of the executive branch, senators, representatives and the candidates, that would make me feel better. The Colorado State Legislature isn’t going to be able to stop this by themselves.