Wednesday, September 24, 2008

You can’t flush your toilet with a fossil

Good grief! Check out this editorial from the Colorado Springs Gazette [link]:

"Reservoir opponents have rocks in their heads

If you thought dealing with Puebloans was tough, you haven’t gotten down in the mud with a paleontologist. Don’t let the pith helmets, rumpled safari shirts and Coke-bottle glasses fool you; with federal environmental laws on their side, they can be tougher than they look.

Tough enough to derail a reservoir project critical to this city’s future? We’ll see.

As if Colorado Springs Utilities didn’t have enough problems building the Southern Delivery System, someone with Denver’s Museum of Nature and Science claims that there’s a “regionally and globally significant” fossil trove where the Jimmy Camp Creek Reservoir is supposed to go. It includes petrified trees and fossils of early mammals.

Kirk Johnson, chief curator and vice president of research and collections at Denver’s Museum of Nature and Science, has sent a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, strongly encouraging “decision makers to consider alternate sites for the proposed reservoir.” And the bureau is required by law to take such requests seriously, given the fetish federal agencies make of the “public process” and of assessing every conceivable environmental impact.

Problem is, Colorado Springs Utilities has spent $6.4 million buying 400 of the 1,874 acres required for the reservoir, and must before long decide whether to spend many millions more acquiring the rest. Colorado Springs needs somewhere to store the water it plans to pipe up from Pueblo. And it’s absurd to have all this jeopardized by the presence of some petrified logs.

CSU’s Gary Bostrum told The Gazette that there’s an alternative site, the Upper Williams Creek Reservoir, if this becomes an insurmountable obstacle. But what “rare” animal or plant species, “globally significant” fossils or “important” archaeological sites might be found along upper Williams Creek if one looks hard enough? And can’t similar issues be raised about any other site one chooses?

The answer isn’t in trying to stay one step ahead of the obstructionists. That’s futile. It’s in confronting them, telling them they must be out of their minds — and in reminding people of all that they have to lose if such absurdities prevail and we don’t get our priorities straight.

For this city, at this point in time — and given how much is riding on this project’s success or failure — a place to store water is much more important than safeguarding a glorified gravel pit. And the needs of the people must in this case trump those of the paleontologists.

If federal law says otherwise, federal law is absurd and should be modified or overturned.

These fossils may or may not be as important as Johnson says. But if they’ve survived 65 million years of geologic upheaval, they’ll survive the relatively short-term presence of a reservoir. The needs of the living must take precedence.

You can’t drink a fossil, wash with a fossil, flush your toilet with a fossil. For this and more, water is critical. And if we don’t show a little more common sense, and a stronger instinct for survival, we’ll be the lost civilization future archeologists will be sifting through, wondering what went wrong."

I can tell you what went wrong. Humans could not adapt and over populated their planet while not taking car eof their limited resources.

Thanks to Margaret for the heads up on this one.


Silver Fox said...

Couldn't they have found out about these fossils earlier in the game? Was someone simply not doing their job right?

Hope they get it figured out without having to resort to drnking fossils! I've always found them a little dry.

ReBecca Hunt-Foster said...

LOL. Who knows what is goingt o happen. If its like everyone else, they probably just did not think about the fact that they would need to do a paleo survey.

Anonymous said...

Here in CA, many sites must have monitors for paleo/archaeo resources. And according to a law (can never remember it's name) if a significant find is made, by that law the scientists can shut down the whole operation until the majority of the material is recovered. Of coarse, most don't cause they don't want to piss off their clients.

When construction began on the Diamond Valley Lake reservoir, the earth movers uncovered a trove of ice age fossils to rival those of Rancho La Brea. Now you can imagine that a with a project of this scale (to give you an idea of size, if there were a major disaster, this reservoir could supply southern CA with water for six months) even the slightest delay could prove disastrous. But paleontologists managed to get everything dug up in time. They just had to work really fast. But the scientists got their fossils (the town later built a museum to house the fossils) and the reservoir met it's deadline. Everyone won.

Another example is the Moorpark Mammoth (which I worked on this summer). The paleontologist could have stopped the whole project, which was for housing development, but didn't. His reason was that they had 250 acres to work on, and they could work around the site. And so they did.Even then, the paleontologists got her out of the ground in 11 days. Again, everyone won. The project wasn't slowed down and one of the most complete Southern mammoths in North America was pried from the earth.

The writer, I think, demonstrates why we need to reach out to people and make them care about fossils. Show them that every one is a treasure, and that once gone, they're gone forever. He clearly doesn't understand that every fossil found is another valuable piece to an immense puzzle in trying to decode the past. Unfortunately, he chose his words wisely, making it sound like no big deal and that the town will perish if this thing isn't built soon. Plus, his comment about how federal law is "absurd and should be overturned". I can only hope he's just another blowhard who doesn't get many serious readers.