A few acres here, a dozen over there, perhaps a thousand at a time. Those increments are slowly growing the National Park System, a system that just jumped by more than 4,200 acres in size thanks to The Conservation Fund.
Most visitors won't notice it, but Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona is 4,265 acres larger in size today thanks to a land transfer orchestrated by The Conservation Fund with help from the National Parks Conservation Association.
The tract, located to the east of the historic remains of Puerco Pueblo, was purchased by The Conservation Fund in January 2013 with financial help from NPCA. Long known as the McCauley Ranch, the lands are rich in Late Triassic resources, including rare dinosaur fossils.
The National Park Service utilized the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund – America’s premier conservation program – to acquire the property. The protection of this property not only preserves the natural viewshed that visitors experience as they drive on the main road through the park, it also secures many fossil-producing sites that have already shown to be ideal locations for exciting new paleontological discoveries. During the summer of 2013, researchers unearthed a well-preserved, two-foot-long phytosaur skull, a distant ancestor of the modern crocodile, on the property. They also uncovered a new find for Petrified Forest National Park, a Doswellia, which is a close relative to the phytosaur. A rich layer of fossil material was identified below the bones that could be the bottom of an ancient pond.
Continued excavation will help to determine the pond’s ecosystem and identify the kinds of prehistoric fish, amphibians, reptiles and plants that once lived there.
“This is an important milestone in the National Park Service’s joint effort with our partners to protect the rich natural and cultural landscape in and around Petrified Forest National Park," said Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “By helping us acquire the McCauley Ranch, our partners at The Conservation Fund and the National Parks Conservation Association have taken another important step toward fulfilling the vision Congress outlined in the Petrified Forest Expansion Act of 2004.
"On behalf of the American people, we thank The Conservation Fund and NPCA. This extension of Petrified Forest’s boundaries will allow us to increase our knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Arizona's Painted Desert environment and its archeological and fossil wonders.”
Congress annually provides funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a bipartisan program that uses a percentage of proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties – not taxpayer dollars. LWCF funding for the protection of irreplaceable lands, like the patchwork of publicly- and privately-owned properties that make up Petrified Forest National Park, would not be possible without support from the Arizona Congressional Delegation.
“This effort is a win-win for Northern Arizona, because when we protect our historic treasures and natural wonders, we also improve the visitor experience and boost our local economies,” said U.S. Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick. “Arizona has many opportunities for efforts like this, and I will do all I can to support them.”
Petrified Forest National Park is famous for its expansive vistas of colorful eroding badlands of the Painted Desert, stark landscapes and the rainbow hues of large petrified trees that have turned to stone during the last 225 million years. Once a lush landscape of coniferous trees and riverways, the park is now a dynamic laboratory offering unparalleled opportunities for scientific research and one-of-a-kind experiences for more than 631,000 visitors each year.
The completion of this conservation effort marks the latest achievement of a decade-old partnership between the National Park Service, The Conservation Fund, and NPCA. The Conservation Fund has helped the National Park Service protect and add more than 30,000 acres of historically-important lands to the park, increasing the overall acreage by 30 percent. The Conservation Fund will continue to work with the National Park Service to identify willing sellers of priority lands within the park boundary.
“Petrified Forest National Park is an incomparable place that should be on every American’s bucket list because it provides a unique glimpse into our nation’s vibrant prehistoric landscapes and cultures,” said Mike Ford, Southwest director for The Conservation Fund. “Even though we’ve made tremendous strides thanks to support from NPCA and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, there is still more work to be done at Petrified Forest National Park to preserve some of the world’s greatest fossil and archeological treasures. We will continue to assist the National Park Service in the conservation of critical lands and resources in the coming years.”
“Congratulations to both Petrified Forest National Park and the people who cherish it,” said Kevin Dahl, Arizona senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. “By working together, and with special thanks to a generous anonymous donor, this land becomes part of the park and will be permanently protected for all to enjoy forever. This project is just one step along the way, as other sensitive parcels at Petrified and at other national parks across the nation are in risk and need to be preserved. We call on Congress to support full LWCF funding to make sure our national parks remain just as special for future generations.”