Paleontological Resource Inventory Strategies And Methods

In order to better document fossil occurrences and to provide baseline paleontological resource data in National Park Service areas, the NPS Geologic Resources Division (GRD) and the NPS Inventory and Monitoring Program (I&M) have established three paleontological resource inventory strategies. These strategies include: comprehensive park-specific paleontological resource inventories, Servicewide thematic paleontological resource inventories, and Inventory & Monitoring Network-based baseline paleontological resource inventories, each established with their own goals and objectives. An article outlining basic paleontological resource monitoring strategies and potential threats to fossil resources is presented by Santucci and Koch (2003).

Comprehensive Park Paleontological Resource Inventories
Comprehensive park inventories are designed to identify all known paleontological resources within a single park unit and involve the assembly of a team of specialists from within the NPS and from educational institutions and cooperators. These specialists work together with the park to identify and address all aspects of the paleontological resources within the targeted park, including resource management, museum curation, law enforcement, and interpretation. The goals and objectives of a parkspecific paleontological resource inventory are detailed by Santucci (2000). An important component of many comprehensive paleontological inventories is to provide paleontology-specific training for park staff. Such park-specific comprehensive paleontological resource inventories have been completed at Yellowstone NP (first park to complete inventory), Arches NP, Bighorn Canyon NRA, Death Valley NP, Grand Teton NP, Santa Monica NRA, Walnut Canyon NM, and Zion NP.

Servicewide Thematic Paleontological Resource Inventories
Servicewide thematic paleontological resource inventories are designed to compile data regarding specific types of paleontological resources which occur in parks throughout the NPS. The first thematic paleontological resource inventory accomplished was an inventory of fossil vertebrate tracks from NPS areas (Santucci et al. 1998). Through this thematic inventory, a total of nineteen NPS units were identified as preserving fossil vertebrate tracks. Subsequent discoveries have increased the number of parks identified with fossil vertebrate tracks to twenty-five (Santucci et al. 2006). Another example of a thematic paleontological resource inventory is the inventory of paleontological resources associated with NPS caves (Santucci et al. 2001). Servicewide thematic inventories have also been initiated for fossil fish (Hunt et al. 2006) and fossils found in cultural resource contexts (Kenworthy and Santucci 2006).

Inventory and Monitoring Network Paleontological Resource Inventories
The third paleontological resource inventory strategy is the I&M Network-based inventory. Network-based paleontological resource inventories are designed to compile baseline paleontological resource data for each of the parks assigned to a particular network. Network-based inventories have been completed for 12 of the 32 I&M Networks including: the Eastern Rivers and Mountains, Greater Yellowstone, Mediterranean Coast, Mid-Atlantic, Mojave Desert, National Capital Region, Northeast Coastal and Barrier, Northern Colorado Plateau, Rocky Mountain, Southern Plains, Southwestern Alaska, and Upper Columbia Basin networks. Inventories of the Gulf Coast, Pacific Islands, Chihuahuan Desert, and San Francisco Bay Area networks are scheduled for completion in 2006. The NPS I&M Program will be providing funding to complete paleontological resource summaries for the remaining networks by FY2009. Citations for these reports are included in the Additional References section.

Inventory and Monitoring Network Paleontological Resource Inventory Methodology
Network-based paleontological inventories have been funded directly by the individual networks. Funds are used to provide stipends or salary for contractors, interns, or paleontological technicians who perform data mining activities and narrative writing. A brief summary outlining the basic techniques used to assemble an I&M Network-based inventory is presented below.

The most valuable component of any paleontological resource inventory is an intensive literature search. Various databases contain citations for geology or paleontology themed publications. GeoRef, established by the American Geological Institute, is the primary database for geology references and contains millions of references from the middle 1700s through today. GeoRef, available in both online or CD-ROM versions, is accessible at many major university libraries. The NPS NatureBib (which supersedes PaleoBib) is an internet-based database for scientific citations presented as bibliographic references. NatureBib is a work in progress and does not yet contain a comprehensive paleontology bibliography. The USGS Library in Reston, Virginia is a premier repository for geologic publications, and houses most of the publications obtained for the network-based paleontological resource inventories. Additionally, museum libraries such as the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, and university libraries provide access to a wide range of geological and paleontological publications. Individual state geological surveys are also excellent sources of information as are geologists familiar with local geology and paleontology.

The literature search also includes gray (unpublished) literature searches of individual park files, museum archives, local newspapers, field notes, etc. These are often excellent sources of anecdotal information about park resources. In addition to literature searches, interviews with park staff, university faculty, geologists from the USGS and state surveys, and even local amateur geologists or paleontologists can yield information regarding park paleontological resources. These interviews frequently result in capturing data that might otherwise be undocumented and potentially lost or unrecognized. As part of the bibliographic searches, a search for geologic maps associated with each park is undertaken. Tim Connors, a geologist with the NPS Geologic Resources Division, maintains a database of geological map coverage for many parks in the NPS. In addition, the USGS National Geologic Map Database (NGMDB; see citation below in Additional References section) lists maps for a given geographic area or place name. The NGMDB also provides information on where to obtain maps. Geologic maps show the types of rocks and the associated geological formations present within a park area. These maps, alone, will often indicate the potential for paleontological resources to occur within a park.

Fossils are most commonly found in sedimentary rocks such as sandstones, shales, and limestones. Fossils, with few exceptions, are not found within igneous rocks (volcanic, or of molten origin) or metamorphic rocks (mechanically and chemically altered) due to the extreme heat and/or pressure associated with the origin and history of these rock types. The nomenclature for geologic formations can be confusing. The NGMDB also includes a searchable lexicon of valid geologic formation names. This lexicon provides a basic summary for each formation and summarizes current and past usage of the various formation names found in the literature. It also provides an annotated bibliography for each formation. The lexicon is very useful in cleaning up nomenclatural confusion.

The information from all these various sources for each park is then compiled and summarized in a written report and developed into individual datasets. The reports undergo peer review by professional geologists, paleontologists, and staff from each park for accuracy before being submitted to the network. This report is designed to consolidate baseline paleontological resource data for each park to support management operations and decision-making. Therefore, the reports are written in NPS language and in additional to the scientific information, the reports address issues of resource management, protection, and interpretation.

The paleontological resource inventory reports synthesize information regarding the scope and significance of fossils documented from each park. Fossils are assessed and organized based upon taxonomy, stratigraphy, and paleoecology. Taxonomically, paleontological resources can be divided into four groups: paleobotany (fossil plants), invertebrates (animals without backbones), vertebrates (animals with backbones), and trace fossils (evidence of biological activity such as track, trace, burrow, etc.).

Stratigraphically, fossils typically have a finite range and occurrence in geologic time (a geologic time scale is included in Appendix A). The period between the first occurrence and final occurrence of a fossil species is referred to as the stratigraphic range zone. Thus specific groups of fossils may be identified directly with a particular stratigraphic unit or stratigraphic range. Likewise, rock units often represent specific ancient sedimentary depositional environments. Paleoecologically, fossil groups may occur primarily, or in some instances only, in specific environmental conditions (temperature, aquatic, terrestrial, etc.). Thus many fossils may be useful as indicators of past environmental conditions. The reports are organized stratigraphically presenting the geologic and paleontologic information chronologically from oldest to youngest. Important fossils documented from localities outside a park are often reported in the park inventory, as this data may indicate the potential for fossils in similar stratigraphic units exposed within park boundaries.

Given the tremendous diversity of past life, the existence of life for over a billion years, and the range of environments to which life has adapted, there is a broad spectrum of research interests in paleontology. It is not surprising that most of what is to be learned about the history of life remains to be discovered. Through research, more than 180 NPS areas have been identified as containing paleontological resources. However, the paleontological research for a particular park may vary widely from an incidental fossil discovery to over a century of intensive paleontological investigations. The inventory reports include information on the history of paleontological research, descriptions of current cooperative projects, identification of any museum or universities serving as repositories for park fossils, and a comprehensive list of publications related to paleontological research associated with the park. Organizationally, the reports include any and all bibliographies that may be associated to a park’s paleontological resources. However, bibliographic data are subdivided in the report into those cited in the narrative (References Cited) and other associated bibliographies (Additional References). The cooperative projects section highlights projects, if any, that the park has funded or supported relating to paleontological resources. Formal datasets are established for known associated paleontological collections, research, or activities.

Paleontological Resource Management Legislation and Guidance
I&M Network reports such as this one are meant to provide network parks with sound baseline paleontological resource data. These data can then be utilized to stimulate future research, interpretation, education, or resource management projects. The proper management of resources identified through these inventories is mandated by many NPS policies. For example, the 2001 National Park Service Management Policies (§1.4.6) stipulates that paleontological resources are considered park resources and values that are subject to the “no impairment” standard set forth by the NPS Organic Act in 1916. Another legislative protection afforded to paleontological resources is found in the NPS Omnibus Management Act of 1998. Section 207, with the following statement, “Information concerning the nature and specific location of…paleontological objects within the units of the National Park System…may be withheld from the public source”, safeguards paleontological locality information from requests under the Freedom of Information Act. Paleontological resource management issues were the subject of a Report of the Secretary of the Interior in May 2000. That report, an “Assessment of Fossil Management on Federal & Indian Lands” summarized a number of principles relating to paleontological resources and their management from a federal government point of view. The report was also prepared in response to a congressional request for an assessment of the need for a unified federal policy on the collection, storage and preservation of fossils and for standards that would maximize the availability of fossils for scientific study. The Paleontological Resources Management section of Natural Resource Management Reference Manual 77 provides guidance and additional information regarding the implementation and continuation of paleontological resource management programs. Links to the above documents are listed in the Additional References section. The Geologic Resources Division is also coordinating the assembly of a geologic resource monitoring manual. This manual includes chapters on various geologic resources, including in situ paleontological resources, and a set of monitoring vital signs that may be applicable to a variety of parks. It represents the next phase in paleontological resource management, following the initial research inventory (represented by this report) of potential fossils and any subsequent field work to identify fossils within a park. Currently (Spring 2006), the monitoring manual is in review. Contact the Geologic Resources Division for more information or to obtain a copy of the report when it is available.

Our knowledge of the fossil record is only as good as our previous field season. The potential for new paleontological discoveries is proportionally related to our understanding as managers and stewards of this non-renewable evidence of life from the past. We believe that the baseline information provided in these reports and the resulting increased understanding of paleontological resources will inevitably result in paving the way for future fossil discoveries in NPS areas.

Hunt, R. K., V. L. Santucci and J. P. Kenworthy. 2006. A preliminary inventory of fossil fish from NPS units. Pages 63-69 in Lucas, S. G., et al. America’s Antiquities (Proceedings of the 7th Federal Fossil Conference). New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science, Albuquerque, NM. Bulletin 34.
Kenworthy, J. P. and V. L. Santucci. 2003. Paleontological Resource Inventory and Monitoring, Southwestern Alaska Network. National Park Service TIC# D-93. 27 pages.
Kenworthy, J. P. and V. L. Santucci. 2003. Paleontological Resource Inventory and Monitoring, Northeast Coastal and Barrier Network. National Park Service TIC# D-340. 28 pages.
Kenworthy, J. P. and V. L. Santucci. 2004. Paleontological Resource Inventory and Monitoring, National Capital Region. National Park Service TIC# D-289. 97 pages.
Kenworthy, J. P. and V. L. Santucci. 2006. A preliminary inventory of NPS paleontological resources found in cultural resource contexts, Part 1: General Overview. Pages 70-76 in Lucas, S. G., et al. America’s Antiquities (Proceedings of the 7th Federal Fossil Conference). New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science, Albuquerque, NM. Bulletin 34.
Kenworthy, J. P. and V. L. Santucci. In preparation. Paleontological Resource Inventory and Monitoring, Gulf Coast Network. National Park Service TIC# D-750. Kenworthy, J.P., V. L. Santucci, M. McNerney, and K. Snell. 2005. Paleontological Resource Inventory and Monitoring, Upper Columbia Basin Network. National Park Service TIC# D-259. 71 pages.
Kenworthy, J. P., C. C. Visaggi, and V. L. Santucci. 2006. Paleontological Resource Inventory and Monitoring, Mid-Atlantic Network. National Park Service TIC# D-800. 85 pages.
Koch, A. L. and V. L. Santucci. 2002. Paleontological Resource Inventory and Monitoring, Northern Colorado Plateau Network. National Park Service TIC# D-206. 44 pages.
Koch, A. L. and V. L. Santucci. 2003. Paleontological Resource Inventory and Monitoring, Southern Plains Network. National Park Service TIC# D-107. 34 pages.
Koch, A. L. and V. L. Santucci. 2003. Paleontological Resource Inventory and Monitoring, Greater Yellowstone Network. National Park Service TIC# D-1025. 20 pages.
Koch, A. L. and V. L. Santucci. 2003. Paleontological Resource Inventory and Monitoring, Mediterranean Coast Network. National Park Service TIC# D-177. 27 pages. 27 pages.
Koch, A.L. and V. L. Santucci. 2004. Paleontological Resource Inventory and Monitoring, Eastern Rivers and Mountains Network. National Park Service TIC# D-265. 50 pages.
Koch, A. L., J. P. Kenworthy, and V. L. Santucci. 2004. Paleontological Resource Inventory and Monitoring, Rocky Mountain Network. National Park Service TIC# D-436. 47 pages.
Santucci, V. L. 1998. The Yellowstone Paleontological Survey. Yellowstone Center for Resources, Yellowstone NP, WY. YCR-NR-98-1. 54 pages.
Santucci, V. L. 2000. What constitutes a comprehensive National Park Service paleo survey? Online information:
Santucci, V. L., A. P. Hunt, and M. G. Lockley. 1998. Fossil vertebrate tracks in National Park Service areas. Dakoterra 5:107-114.
Santucci, V. L., J. Kenworthy, and R. Kerbo, 2001. An inventory of paleontological resources associated with National Park Service Caves. NPS Geological Resources Division, Denver. Technical Report NPS/NRGRD/GRDTR-01/02. (TIC# D-2231). 50 pages.
Santucci, V. L. and A. L. Koch. 2003. Paleontological resource monitoring strategies for the National Park Service. Park Science 22(1): 22-25.
Santucci, V. L. and A. L. Koch. 2004. Paleontological Resource Inventory and Monitoring, Mojave Desert Network. National Park Service TIC# D-305. 50 pages.

General I&M Information National Park Service Paleontology Program sites NPS Geologic Resources Division: NPS Paleontology Program: NPS Park Paleontology Newsletter: Geological Survey Websites U.S. Geological Survey: Listing of all state geological surveys (Association of American State Geologists): Geological Society of America: Library catalogs U.S. Geological Survey Library Catalog: Smithsonian Institution Libraries Catalog: Resource Management/Legislation Documents NPS 2001 Management Policies (§1.4): NPS 1998 Omnibus Management Act (paleontological resource summary): NPS Natural Resource Management Reference Manual #77 (paleontology section): Assessment of Fossil Management on Federal & Indian Lands: Other geology/paleontology tools Topozone (interactive access to all USGS topographic maps): U.S. Geological Survey National Geologic Map Database (NGMDB): U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Paleobiology Database: Paleontology Portal:

Last updated: June 19, 2017


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