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Dinosaur National Monument Cutting Paleontology Staff


Should we be concerned that the Park Service is reducing the paleontologoical staff at Dinosaur National Monument? Northern Arizona University photo.

The Blue Ridge Parkway without a landscape architect. Grand Canyon without a staff geologist. Mount Rainier without a volcanologist. Dinosaur National Monument without a paleontologist.

Is this how we want the National Park Service to operate?

Back when Fran Mainella was the Park Service director, there was a battle over whether Park Service jobs would be outsourced to private contractors. That battle eventually was beaten back.

Or was it?

After all, there seems to be a serious drive in the Park Service to use more and more volunteers out in the field, at Gateway National Recreation Area the superintendent supports the leasing of aging structures at historic Fort Hancock to commercial interests because the Park Service can't afford their maintenance, and the Presidio of San Francisco is run more like a business than a unit of the national park system.

So what are we to make of the news that Dinosaur National Monument is whittling its staff of three paleontologists down to just one?

"They're cutting out the heart of the paleo program," Margaret Imhof, a private contracting paleontologist in Vernal, Utah, tells the Salt Lake Tribune.

Superintendent Mary Risser, however, tells the newspaper that the monument's remaining paleontologist, Dan Chure, can accomplish the monument's mission by working with academic and museum researchers. Perhaps that's true. After all, academics were responsible for discovering the site that's cut in half by the Green River. The current cost-cutting just brings matters full circle.

But do we want units of the national park system run by groups -- whether they're for-profit or non-profit -- other than the National Park Service? And if that's OK, why should the units remain part of the system? In the case of Dinosaur, the state of Utah runs a first-class paleontological museum in nearby Vernal. Why not simply give the state the national monument? That'd save the cash-strapped Park Service some money.

Once upon a time, some held a dream of seeing Dinosaur become a full-fledged national park. Can that still be possible with its research effectively outsourced? More importantly, is the cost-cutting at Dinosaur emblematic of what's transpiring across the national park system? Should we be surprised by such cuts engineered by the Bush administration? Is this good government at work, or a garage sale?

Back in 2006 when I raised the question of whether a national park becomes less of a national park when pieces of it are handed over to commercial interests under the guise of leasing, a superintendent lamented the lack of fiscal resources to do his job.

"The problem is not Park Service neglect, in my experience," the superintendent told me. "It's the excruciating dilemma of not having the tools to protect the resources, no matter how much we want to do. If the choice is to allow the resources to degrade significantly or work with partners to arrest or reverse it, I don't know any superintendent, current or past, who wouldn't look very hard at the partnership option.

"I think the problem right now is that all the rhetoric and organizational and political incentives favor the partnerships, overshadowing the policy statements that tell us these are public resources and the public benefit should always come first."



First of all, I would like to say that it warms my heart to see such passion and fire in these blogs and posts regarding the atrocious problem at Dinosaur National Monument. In matters such as this, these educated comments and discussions are exactly what we need in addition to the letters and messages to those politicians. Even though some of these politicians may THINK they have the best intentions for Dino at heart (for some of them I wouldn't be so sure...), the public has a completely different view and in the end, it's the public's opinion that matters most for they are the ones who will suffer the most. We, the public, as a whole, CANNOT let such a catastrophe happen. Dinosaur National Monument, as has been previously pointed out, is the ONLY SITE OF IT'S KIND IN THE WORLD! Therefore, not only is the American public going to suffer if this decision goes through, but so will the people of the world. Let's face it, Americans are not the only ones visiting parks, everyone knows that parks with such amazing features are INTERNATIONAL attractions not just NATIONAL ones. So how can we just stand idly by and let administrators and bureaucrats make decisions for everyone? It's just not right.
Secondly, I too am a student of paleontology. I'm a graduating senior wishing to further my education through graduate school and hope to someday have a Ph.D. in Vertebrate Paleontology. I've applied to the internship at DINO through both Geocorps and SCA, and I really hope this decision does not go through. The internship that's being offered will be an amazing experience, and if both Scott and Ann are cut, the experience will change greatly. The program would be supervised by Dan Chure, who, honestly, has a bad reputation among those who have worked there in the past as a volunteer or intern as well as with those applying. I will not pass judgement on Mr. Chure as a person, but boy oh boy, as a supervisor.....let's just say his performance leaves great room for improvement. (I want to make a point that this is in no way supposed to be a personal attack on anyone, I am just stating my personal opinion and what I've heard.) If things change and the position of supervisor for these internships changes hands, what will become of the once reknowned internship/volunteer experience at DINO? Right now, at this very moment, there is a substantial amount of people on pins and needles waiting to hear back about this internship, whether any of us have a chance or not at getting it, whether it's truly going to be what we signed up for. I for one want to make damn sure that this internship continues to be the amazing experience I've been told about.
The last thing I want to say is this: it's great that all of us are so heated about this and really taking this problem to heart, it's even better that some of us are working individually to fight this. I would like to propose something though: I ask those of you who feel strongly enough about this issue towards keeping the paleo program at DINO, are you willing to band together, form some sort of coalition against this mishap? Are you willing to go out there, get signatures for petitions and start getting the national public involved in this matter? I think this should be taken to the national public because the more voices we can get on our side, the better!! If you are interested in this, please post back a response!! I truly believe that if we work hard enough, we can make them hear us and make them understand exactly what we mean!! You CANNOT take the PALEONTOLOGY out of a PALEONTOLOGY PROGRAM.....that's like taking the ice cream out of an ice cream parlor, it just doesn't work that way people!! we cannot let this injustice pass!!

Whats your beef JTR? Do you have sort of inside information to offer? Have you been to the park? Do you know what is going on here? Do you work there? Have you worked there? Unless you have, I do not see how you can be accusing Tom of stating his mind (this is America after all). Paleo is a pretty small work, there are always personal connections, maybe you know that. So, whats your beef? what are your opinions? IF you do not have anything constructive today button your lip!

This comment is not to cause any more flares. I hope Kurt will forgive my intrusion; I'm not sure how else to do this. Tom and Paleogirl1, look through my profile on here and find my blog/website link - then find my contact info and send me a note.



"To defrauded town toilers, parks in magazine articles are like pictures of bread to the hungry. I can write only hints to incite good wanderers to come to the feast.... A day in the mountains is worth a mountain of books." -- John Muir

It's certainly good to see such concern for Dinosaur National Monument. I have indeed been doing some follow-up to the previous articles on this matter. As they say, there are two sides to every story. Sometimes three or four. With that said, rather than bashing folks for their views, if you can, hold off on further comments until I can provide you with an update. It should be posted sometime tomorrow, and I think you'll find its contents interesting.

I have to say that I am with Tom, Jen, DinoMan and the rest of the concerned people who have posted excellent comments and credible information on this site. As a geology student, I to have a passion for paleontology and hope to pursue a graduate education in vertebrate paleontology. I completely agree with Jen in that I also find it “refreshing” to hear such passion and dedication to a cause displayed by a fellow student! As students in science, we are the future of paleontology and geology, it is us that will carry the torch and unfortunately have to correct the mistakes made by the “Old Guard” (NPS management). All throughout my childhood we traveled every summer to many of our countries National Parks and I have fond memories of Dinosaur National Monument (before the closure of course) and the lasting affect it had on me. There are some excellent questions and concerns that have been voiced on this site and I think its high-time that the NPS starts giving us some legitimate answers! It seems to me that Tom has raised some legitimate concerns through his experience at Dinosaur and I will join the cause as well. I will most definitely write numerous letters to the upper management of the NPS as well as politicians (it’s an election year folks!) and outside organizations. This situation also hits a nerve with me because I have recently applied for 2 internships at Dinosaur National Monument this summer (hopefully they haven’t gutted the program by then) and I was hoping to have a valuable experience if I am selected. Hopefully I can help make a difference in this situation. Let me finish by saying that I think it’s disgusting that certain people (refer to above) make it their job to discredit and bash other people’s knowledge and experience. What a complete waste of time and blog space on this page! It sounds to me like JTR might very well be closely connected to this situation and actually part of the growing problem? Before you start minimizing the importance of such interns and an organization such as SCA you might want to do some research into that program and I think you will find the importance behind it. Furthermore, it sounds like interns and volunteers such as Tom (a lowly form of life according to the ignorance of JTR) have done MUCH of the work at Dinosaur? Hmmm let’s ponder that…… I think we (the educated and concerned public) can see rite through the fact-less comments posted by such people. I will spread the word throughout school and my community and keep closely connected to this issue.

Just what I thought - a small group of friends with a personal agenda. And we’re supposed to believe that a summer intern has all the facts about what the scientists and management do and all the decisions they make and how they spend their time. It seems that a summer SCA intern is pretty much the lowest level employee in a park and certainly not privy to ALL THE FACTS. Sounds like you just don’t understand what work is going on around you.

Hey hats off to Tom for a very informative and well written comment! As someone who works in the field of paleontology, this is a very personal situation and we as scientist should all feel this way about such an awesome resource like Dinosaur. It sounds to me like Tom is speaking from experience and has facts to back him up! I am very concerned about the points that he has brought to the forefront, especially the very apparent shortcomings of park management and paleontology program manager. Consider me to be "On Board" and I will be writing the director as well as the Secretary of the Interior. Thanks for the great comment Tom!

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