Utah May Get Arizona Dinosaur Fossils

Utah May Get Arizona Dinosaur Fossils

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A decision by the Museum of Northern Arizona to cut back its geology program eventually could lead to the museum's dinosaur collection from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument being transferred to Utah.

"The Utah Museum of Natural History is a logical place to send the collection, if that is what the federal agencies want," said Dave Gillette, curator of paleontology at the Flagstaff museum. "I would certain favor that."

The transfer of the fossil collections seemed imminent earlier this year when the museum voted to eliminate the geology department. But public opposition prompted the museum board this month to restore two positions, enough to keep the collection at the museum for the moment.

Gillette, the former Utah state paleontologist, is out of a job at the end of the month, but he plans to continue his research in southern Utah, including projects in the Grand Staircase and helping the National Park Service develop a management plan for paleontology for the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

"Between those two areas, we have a complete record of 30 million years of evolutionary history during the Late Cretaceous," Gillette said. "It is the world's most complete record of biodiversity, and it's an opportunity paleontologists can't afford to miss."

Gillette has enough grant money to continue his research another three to six months.

The ultimate fate of the Utah fossils at the Museum of Northern Arizona remains in doubt. The National Park Service has already requested fossils from Lake Powell be returned to a laboratory in Page, Ariz., for study. The state of Utah has also requested the return of two fossils on loan to the museum that were recovered from state lands in southern Utah.

"We OK'd it for Dave to work on," said state paleontologist Jim Kirkland. "But one of them turned out to be an incredibly important new specimen, and in light of the situation there we have asked for it back."

The Museum of Northern Arizona's lack of commitment to new research could mean the BLM will order the Grand Staircase collection back to a qualified Utah facility.

Paleontologist Scott Sampson with the Utah Museum of Natural History is conducting research in Grand Staircase, and those fossils are being studied at the University of Utah.

Kirkland said the state is watching the situation in Flagstaff closely.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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