Evolving Thoughts

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:

http://www.pinoncanyon.com/

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Joseph j7uy5
    May 29, 2007

    bombing practice? Seems as though we are getting plenty of practice lately, already.

  2. #2 baryogenesis
    May 29, 2007

    I suppose preservation of fossil sites are way down the list of anticipated protests. Zero known human artifacts, minimal Green controversy with the possible taint of being unpatriotic by opposing military priorities might easily equal the go-ahead to munitions tests.

  3. #3 Emory Kimbrough
    May 29, 2007

    Titanotheres and Apatosaurs. The Taxa of Evil. al-Phyla. Bomb ‘em back to the Stone Age.

    uh…wait…they’re already below the Stone Age…

    Well, bomb the *&%@ out of them anyway.

    ———————————————-

    Seriously, can we be more specific about how to protest? I see that their congressional delegation is opposed to the plan – would sending these representatives letters of support help strengthen their position? What are their addresses? Are any professional societies or other organizations circulating petitions? If so, where do we go to add our names? Can all the Science Blogs join to start a petition or author a joint protest letter? How, exactly, do we best direct our protests?.

    Finally, how ’bout we make Ken Ham’s new museum a bombing range instead? That would solve two problems.

  4. #4 coturnix
    May 29, 2007

    It took more than two years, but it appears that Navy backed off buidlding OLF in Western North Carolina. Perhaps we can analyze how that was done: support by the Governor and the two Senators came only in the last days of the campaign against it.

  5. #5 Hank Roberts
    May 29, 2007

    Hell, point out what they could sell the bones for on the collector’s marketplace if they carefully dug them out first, if it comes to that. They’re throwing away a lot of value there.

  6. #6 coturnix
    May 29, 2007

    Kids. Kids love dinosaurs. Who can resist the pleas and tears of kids?

  7. #7 Bob O'H
    May 29, 2007

    Hang on, what’s the etymology of dinosaur? Terrible lizard? Obviously anyone supporting fossils is on the side of the terrorists.

    That must include these guys.

    Bob

  8. #8 MartinC
    May 29, 2007

    Such a shame to destroy 4000 years of history like this.
    Mind you, if God had wanted the dinosaurs to survive then he wouldn’t have sent the flood in the first place. At least that evil ‘fossil evidence’, placed by Satan just to confuse man, will be destroyed. Praise be !

  9. #9 Thony C.
    May 29, 2007

    It gives the expression “to bomb something/somebody back into the stone age” a whole new meaning. Are the American Airforce working on the project of “bombing somebody back into the Jurassic”?

  10. #10 ben
    May 29, 2007

    I suspect this might have something to do with the increasing fundamentalist feeling in the military. (I’ve blogged about this before.)

    This isn’t disregarding evolutionary theory, it’s actively getting rid of that pesky evidence. But hey, at least they finally got their museum amusement park open.

  11. #11 Dunc
    May 29, 2007

    Who can resist the pleas and tears of kids?

    If anybody can, it’s the military.

  12. #12 Hammy
    May 29, 2007

    Ha! It is all part of my secret plan to destroy the inconvenient facts of fossil evidence! …oops: I don;t see a cancel button! I am undone!

  13. #13 Laelaps
    May 29, 2007

    While the fossils are certainly an issue, farmers and others are pretty pissed that so much land is going to be gobbled up for an even larger military base. I blogged about this a little more than a month ago, and to the best of my understanding that military hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with what exactly their plan for obtaining and using the land is going to be.

  14. #14 jre
    May 29, 2007

    Great post! Please forgive a spelling nit-pick: near the end of your opening paragraph, s/ordinance/ordnance/.

  15. #15 Patrick Quigley
    May 29, 2007

    Emory Kimbrough,

    Did you ever teach physics at the Montgomery Academy?

  16. #16 Pierce R. Butler
    May 29, 2007

    Now nobody can complain that we’re not doing to the Iraqis (Baghdad museums, ruins of Babylon, archeological treasures in general) anything that we’re not willing to do to ourselves.

  17. #17 arensb
    May 29, 2007

    Emory Kimbrough:

    Well, bomb the *&%@ out of them anyway.

    Yes, I’m sure there are a few coprolites there as well.

  18. #18 Seraphiel
    May 29, 2007

    What’s wrong with the bombing ranges they have now?

    Too much shrapnel on them or something?

    Why do these assholes feel compelled to take over even more public land to litter with their dangerous debris?

  19. #19 John Pieret
    May 29, 2007

    Here is a site with the contact info for the entire Colorado Congressional delegation:

    http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/cgi-bin/newseek.cgi?site=ctc&state=co

    Feel free to drop ‘em a line … even that idiot Tom Tancredo, who held up his hand at the Republican Presidential debate to show he is ignorant of science. Maybe we can convince the dolt that Noah was a little off and the Ark is up in one of those canyons.

    Don’t you furriners feel shy either! We think we run the world so y’all are constituents too!

  20. #20 Dustin
    May 30, 2007

    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:
    http://www.pinoncanyon.com/
    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.

  21. #21 Dustin
    May 30, 2007

    John,

    Thanks for bumping that up into the main body. One of the avenues we have will be through the Presidency, and if that doesn’t work, the best chance of stopping the expansion will be to get Congress to oppose funding for the project, and that’s going to take everyone’s involvement.

  22. #22 Emory Kimbrough
    May 30, 2007

    Patrick Quigley #15

    Hey Patrick! Twenty-two years, no see. Send me an e-mail at emoryk (at) hotmail.com and we’ll catch up without having to bore the other participants here with a reunion.

  23. #23 mark
    May 30, 2007

    So they bomb and shoot the fossils.
    Millions of years pass, and future paleontologists are digging at the site. They discover weapons mixed in with the fossils. “By Ham!” they exclaim, “Here is proof that dinosaurs coexisted with Man. Let us bring these sacred relics back to our museum in Kentucky, the only facility left from the 20th century!”

  24. #24 Dustin
    May 31, 2007

    I put some helpful links here, and I’d appreciate it if everyone could have a look.