Paleontological Resource Inventory

person examining rock
Field survey being conducted by Geoscientist-in-the-Parks participant Scott Cheruba at Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.


The establishment of baseline paleontological resource data is essential for the appropriate management of fossils found within National Park Service (NPS) areas. Paleontological resource inventories, sometimes referred to as paleontological resource surveys, help to identify the scope, significance, distribution and management issues associated with fossils in national parks. Through paleontological resource inventories, 276 different parks have been identified which preserve fossils.

Paleontological resource inventories (PRI) support the management of non-renewable fossil resources in parks, are based upon scientific principles, and are specifically referenced in federal law, regulations and NPS policy. Section 6302 of the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act specifically states, “The Secretary shall develop appropriate plans for inventory, monitoring, and the scientific and educational use of paleontological resources…

In May 2000, a report to Congress was issued by the Secretary of Interior titled “Fossils on Federal and Indian Lands" (U.S. Department of the Interior 2000). This report summarized a series of “Principles” and “Recommendations” pertaining to fossils on federal lands. Principle 5: Effective Stewardship Requires Accurate Information includes the recommendation:

Recommendation: Future actions should acknowledge the need for gathering and analyzing information about where fossils occur, in particular the critical role of inventory in the effective management of fossil resources. Increased emphasis on fossil inventory should take into consideration, where possible, regional approaches across agency lines, using modern technology such as GIS. Such work could also address specific issues, such as the impact of erosion on the loss of resources.

The 2000 Report to Congress referenced the National Park Service’s paleontological resource inventory at Yellowstone National Park and this work, published in 1998, serves as a model for other similar fossil inventories (Santucci 1998). Since 1998, the National Park Service Paleontology Program has designed and implemented several strategies for the inventory of paleontological resources from NPS administered areas and affiliated sites.

NPS Paleontological Resource Inventory Strategies

There are three main paleontological resource inventory strategies:

  1. Park-specific Paleontological Resource Inventories,

  2. Servicewide Thematic Paleontological Resource Inventories,

  3. I&M Network Based Paleontological Resource Inventories.

The comprehensive park-specific inventories are field-based. The other inventory strategies are accomplished primarily though extensive literature searches and personnel interviews.

Park-specific Paleontological Resource Inventories

Park-specific paleontological resource inventories are designed to compile baseline and comprehensive information related to all aspects of the park’s fossils. These park-based fossil inventories gather information regarding the scope, significance, distribution and management issues association with a specific park’s paleontological resources. Typically, park-based inventories include:

  • A detailed review of existing literature including any published and unpublished reports and documents;

  • museum collections and records searches;

  • interviews with past and current staff and researchers knowledgeable about park fossils; and,

  • field inventory assessments to document park fossils within geologic strata.

The inventories review the history of paleontology for the park, both prior and after the establishment of the park. Paleontological localities are documented using GIS and paleontological resource locality maps are often produced as part of the inventory. One of the important aspects of the park-based paleontological resource inventories is the review of management issues involving scientific research, fossil collecting, museum curation, interpretation, education, protection and other areas of park operations associated with park fossils. Most park-specific paleontological resource inventories result in one or more reports and publications to document the park’s fossil record. For a list of completed park-specific paleontological resource inventories, go to the Park-specific Inventory Reports page.

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). Go to Servicewide Thematic Inventory Reports page.

I&M Network Based Paleontological Resource Inventories

Paleontological Resource Inventory Summary Reports provide a comprehensive summary and bibliography of published and unpublished literature regarding paleontological resources in parks. The reports serve as an important reference for park planning documents, future paleontological research and on-the-ground surveys. Report preparation involves an intensive review of existing literature;acquisition and application of geologic maps;rectifying nomenclatural issues with geologic formation names;conducting interviews with park staff, university faculty and geologists from the U.S. Geologic Survey and state geologic surveys;and researching museum and park collections, libraries, and files for relevant geologic and paleontological resource data and information.Geologic and paleontological information from all of these sources for each park is complied and summarized in a written report, including individual narratives specific to each park. Each report synthesizes information regarding the scope and significance of fossils documented in and near each network park. Paleontological information is assessed and organized based on taxonomy, stratigraphy, and paleoecology. Each report is subject to peer review by professional geologists, paleontologists, and staff from each park for accuracy prior to final publication. The reports are designed to consolidate paleontological resource data and information for each park in the I&M network to support management operations and decision-making. Go to I&M Network Based Inventory Summary Reports page.


  • U.S. Department of the Interior. 2000. Assessment of Fossil Management on Federal & Indian Lands. US Department of the Interior—[IRMA Portal]

  • Santucci VL. 1998. The Yellowstone paleontological survey. YCR-NR-98-1. Yellowstone Center for Resources, National Park Service, Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone Center for Resources—[IRMA Portal]

Last updated: April 4, 2023


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