John Day Fossil Beds
Administrative History
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Chapter Six:


Ladd observed near the end of his superintendency that the general management plan approved in 1979 suffered from being too narrow in scope and attributed this flaw to the NPS not knowing enough about the monument's resources. [1] Although the GMP gave center stage to paleontology in resources management, it focused largely on in situ protection of fossils on park lands. This stemmed from the planning team wanting to comply with general NPS policy. In doing so they sought to prevent unauthorized disturbance of the park's paleontological resources and allowed only qualified investigators to collect through a permit system. One sentence in the GMP constituted the sole reference to collections, and that made an open-ended reference to repositories where specimens could be made available to scientists for study. [2]

In 1978 Ladd and other members of the planning team envisioned a relatively small on-site collection. This resulted from the monument having limited storage space and the uncertain availability of professional expertise for collecting, preparing, and identifying specimens. [3] Rather than add a paleontologist to his staff at this point, Ladd chose to contract with the cooperative park studies unit (CPSU) at Oregon State University (OSU) in Corvallis for needed services. [4]

Since fossils could be exposed near existing trails such as the one in Blue Basin, Ladd saw their potential as exhibits. [5]This led to the NPS contracting with the CPSU for the location, relief, and preparation of fossil exhibit material beginning in 1979. [6] Largely through the efforts of OSU paleontologist John Ruben, three specimens had been recovered and prepared for display at the Cant Ranch by the end of 1980. [7] Over the following year, Ruben and a colleague from the University of California at Riverside, Hugh Wagner, began to improve locality information associated with recovered specimens by initiating a grid system for mapping fossil locations in the park. [8]

John Rensburger and John Ruben
John Rensburger (top) and John Ruben (bottom) gave the NPS needed information about the monument's paleontological resources.
(NPS photos)

With a mapping system in place, Ladd felt that Ruben should produce a plan to guide what might be collected and retained at OSU. When Ruben failed to produce such a plan, Ladd changed his thinking in regard to keeping collections at the monument. [9] The NPS then moved to acquire fossil preparation and storage equipment, with establishment of a permanent museum technician position taking place by the end of 1983. As part of his justification for the position, Ladd folded it into the ongoing adaptive rehabilitation of structures at Cant Ranch. He therefore arranged to use a log cabin located in back of the main ranch house to serve as a demonstration exhibit where fossil relief work could be performed in front of visitors. [10] Further justification came from a collections management plan written under contract in 1984, which described specific problems associated with the monument's museum records and care of its collection. [11]

Ladd selected Ted Fremd to fill the museum technician position. Within a few months of his arrival from Fossil Butte National Monument in July 1984, he had completed most of the accession backlog. [12] Fremd's training in paleontology also allowed him to play an important role in field prospecting and fossil recovery. [13] This allowed the NPS to terminate the CPSU contract for survey and recovery of exposed fossils, thereby reassigning those tasks to park staff. [14] Consequently, the park's collection grew from approximately 300 objects in mid-1984 to 1,500 over the next two years. [15]

Ted Fremd
Ted Fremd shows a specimen to young visitors, March 1985.
(NPS photo by Kim Sikoryak)

Fremd revised the monument's scope of collections statement while this first growth spurt took place. Approved in January 1986, the document separated paleontological objects into an exhibit series and a research study series. In the former category, the NPS wanted to have one fossil specimen representing each plant and animal species occurring in the monument's rock formations. The research study series, by contrast, could contain all fossils collected by qualified investigators within the monument's boundaries. It might also include specimens collected from outside the park, as long as retrieval took place from geological deposits similar in age to those represented in the park or local depositional environments. This provision came from Fremd and other paleontologists having recognized the fact that the full breadth of the park's story could not be told within the monument's boundaries. He also made the point that museum catalog records, specimen labels, and associated field data for all fossils collected in the area before the monument's establishment constituted legitimate additions to the research study series. [16]

As intended, the revised scope of collections statement set general goals and limits for maintenance of the museum. It also helped to give the paleontology program momentum, or at least justification, for an aggressive approach to collection and documentation of all fossil material found in the field. By 1986 Fremd and other park employees actively assisted investigators representing a number of institutions with work in all three units of the monument. The museum collection benefited from this work by gaining a number of additional fossil specimens, some of which came from outside the monument's boundaries. [17]

A dramatic increase in the number of specimens coming from outside park boundaries resulted once the NPS and two Bureau of Land Management (BLM) districts signed a cooperative agreement (see Appendix B) in 1987. In order to promote better management of paleontological resources occurring on federal lands in the John Day Basin, the NPS agreed to provide technical expertise to the BLM as well as curation and accountable storage for retrieved specimens. In return, the BLM assented to allowing authorized NPS employees to collect fossils on public lands in the Prineville and Burns districts. The BLM also agreed to provide financial and logistical support for its specimens stored with the NPS museum collection. [18] Fremd touted the pact as a model for partnerships in paleontological stewardship soon after it went into effect. He noted that over 500 specimens from BLM sites had been identified and curated by park staff in only one year. The BLM, in turn, purchased storage equipment and helped to defray the salary of a temporary museum technician. [19]

An expanding horizon in collecting and curation coincided with more concerted efforts by park staff to obtain information about fossil specimens from the John Day Basin housed in other repositories. Fremd began inventorying this material by visiting institutions in Oregon and Washington during 1987. [20] Review of specimens and related records widened somewhat that year when interpreter Kim Sikoryak accepted a three month detail in Washington, D.C. Long-time volunteer Jane Sikoryak responded to this opportunity by compiling a report on park-related collections at the Smithsonian Institution, National Archives, and Library of Congress. [21]

In early 1988 Ladd described the monument as "uniquely positioned to serve as a bridge between science and the general public." [22] Since Fremd and other park employees wanted to build stronger links to academia in order to improve resource management and interpretation, the NPS found it advantageous to prepare a research plan. Written by Fremd and approved by Ladd in February 1989, the plan aimed at assuring continuity in the monument's research program by providing the means to evaluate proposals. [23] It also represented a vehicle to communicate opportunities for study by outside investigators, so Fremd emphasized the monument's research needs and delineated how such work could be accomplished. [24]

Since coming to the park in July 1984, Fremd's position gradually expanded from a largely curatorial one to include the research aspect of paleontology. In early 1988 he began a long-term study of fossilized Turtle Cove fauna aimed at resolving the problem of depositional history in the John Day Formation during the early-middle Miocene. [25] Ladd responded by revising the organizational chart so that Fremd could report directly to the superintendent rather than the monument's chief interpreter. [26] Fremd's expanding role in research and an annual growth rate of 500 or more objects in the museum collection necessitated additional staff support for the curatorial function. [27] Once Ladd found funding from a vacant park ranger position, the NPS added a permanent museum technician in 1989. Working mainly as a preparator under Fremd who now served as the park curator, Camille Evans filled the new position. In addition to bringing better care to a growing fossil collection, her presence also allowed the NPS to generate additional exhibit specimens and permitted a greater number of exchanges with other institutions. [28]

Throughout this period Fremd continued to visit known localities within the park at least once a year as part of a cyclic prospecting system. [29] Since hazards to fossils from weathering and breakage increased significantly once exposed at the surface, he spent at least 25 percent of his time surveying places where easily eroded volcanic tuffs yielded specimens on a regular basis. [30] Upon retrieval of each find, park staff entered information concerning specimens into a database with detailed coordinates. This made it possible to find data on all specimens collected from a small geographical area or within a stratigraphic interval. Fremd also noted the benefit of being able to reunite faunal samples, microinvertebrate assemblages, and even individual organisms separated by different collection episodes through use of this system. [31]

Better locality information available through the database contributed to periodic collection surveys of specimens obtained in the John Day Basin but held by other institutions. Fremd visited the University of California at Berkeley in 1989 and 1991 to photograph and document specimens of interest to the NPS. [32] He also traveled to the University of Oregon to study paleontological holdings there, something which also included negotiations over allowing the NPS to borrow specimens from the Thomas Condon collection. [33] In 1992 Fremd and park volunteer Skylar Rickebaugh went further afield by conducting surveys at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Peabody Museum at Yale University. [34]

Along with a comprehensive literature review, the collection surveys represented an important aspect of a research process described by Fremd as critical for curation of specimens in NPS care. Another aspect of that process involved facilitating needed studies so that time and stratigraphic relationships among specimens could be better understood. [35] In Fremd's view, mapping the stratigraphy of the Painted Hills and Clarno units constituted the top priority among all proposed research because it could establish a geological framework for evaluating the significance of fossil resources located in that part of the monument. [36] Once a three year contract for the mapping began in 1991, investigators found a number of new localities and provided the NPS with associated specimens. [37] The contract's success led directly to another one for stratigraphic work in the Sheep Rock Unit, this time in the Mascall Formation's type area. [38]

Even with much of the geological framework established for the monument's fossil resources, Fremd maintained that determinations of significance often rested with more than one branch of paleontology. As a vertebrate paleontologist, he recognized the need for active consultations with other specialists representing paleobotany, invertebrate paleontology, stratigraphy, geochemistry, and paleopedology. [39] With active investigations in the park area numbering more than ten by 1992, Fremd initiated a revival of the John Day Associates primarily as a way to facilitate better communication among these workers. [40] It proved popular enough to attract 40 members in just three years, mainly because Fremd could act as an on site facilitator. [41]

Despite all of the interest from outside investigators in a revived John Day Associates, Fremd stressed that the NPS still had to develop suitable facilities to take advantage of low cost professional help. This consisted of living quarters to offset the independent researcher's cost of rendering assistance, as well as use of equipment in a laboratory large enough to permit year round work by staff, volunteers, and visiting scientists. [42] Little progress toward the provision of such housing had been made by 1995, but the paleontology program registered some gains in regard to work space over the previous five years. Conversion of the Cant Ranch bunkhouse into a fossil preparation laboratory took place in 1990, something which relieved cramped conditions in the log cabin devoted to demonstrating relief work. [43] The program gained more space in the main ranch house for accession storage in 1992, while also obtaining use of a free-standing storage shed inside the Cant Ranch barn for part of the museum collection. [44] Construction of a Bally building inside the barn two years later resulted in a larger and more permanent storage area for a museum collection which, at this point, totaled almost 10,000 objects. [45]

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Last Updated: 30-Apr-2002