190-million-year-old dinosaur track stolen; lands vandalism near Moab on the rise

This dinosaur track was stolen from public lands near Moab, Utah in February.


With the usual threats of development as well as stretched budgets and resources, the last thing public lands need now are more stressors. But unfortunately, vandalism and destruction of fossils and other resources has been on the rise lately.

On Feb. 19, a 190-million-year-old dinosaur track near Moab, Utah went missing, according to Deseret News. Vandalism has also been found on a rock on the road leading to Canyonlands National Park, and on ancient art that is hundreds or thousands of years old, like petroglyphs in Utah’s Moonflower Canyon.

This photo is of a dinosaur track before it went missing on public lands near Moab, Utah. credit: BLM.

The impact of these events are felt by scientists, visitors and even local businesses. The missing track near Moab was reported missing from the Hells Revenge Trail, an area frequented by local tour groups. Its disappearance led a group of local outfitters to raise over $7,000 as a reward for information leading to an arrest, according to Deseret News.

“We were upset,” Jason Taylor, manager of Moab Adventure Center, told Deseret News. “There’s a lot of people who make their living in the backcountry here, and when these things get stolen or taken or defaced, it affects us, not only because we care about the area, but it’s also our careers and our livelihoods.”

Sadly, events like these happen fairly often, especially because it is difficult for rangers to monitor all the remote areas on public lands. In the past several months, there have been a number of similar noteworthy acts of vandalism:

  • Illegal markings on 2,000-4,000 year old Native American rock art at a sacred site on public lands in the Paradox Valley in Colorado around January 1, 2014 (pictured below)

  • Carving near signature of Captain William Clark (the only remaining physical evidence of his actual route during the Lewis and Clark Expedition) at Pompey's Pillar National Monument in Montana on October 10, 2013

  • Civil War artifacts dug up at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in Georgia during the government shutdown in October 2013

  • Toppling of ancient rock formation in Goblin Valley State Park in Utah in summer of 2013

Vandalized rock art on public lands in the Paradox Valley. credit: BLM.

"Our federal public lands contain countless treasures for all of us to enjoy," said Phil Hanceford, Assistant Director of Agency Policy and Planning at The Wilderness Society. "We should all be vigilant about the growing problem of vandalism and report any suspicious activity to the authorities to help officials better respond in these times of dwindling budgets and stretched resources for the land management agencies."

Suspicious activity can be reported to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) by calling 435-259-2100. You can also contact the agency if you are interested in becoming one of their "site stewards"- volunteers who keep their eyes peeled for vandalism and deterioration at various archaeological sites.

Some of these incidents have led to arrests, raising attention to this threat both locally and nationally. Utah Senator Dixon Pitcher has drafted a bill to prosecute those arrested. Also, President Obama's 2015 budget included a request to give the Fish and Wildlife Service the authority to "seek and retain compensation from responsible parties who injure or destroy refuge system resources."

Those of us who treasure special wild lands are disheartened to hear about their desecration, but we can also make a difference. We can observe leave no trace principles ourselves and also act as advocates for the fragility of America’s shared lands.

Where to report suspicious activity on BLM Lands:  Call 435-259-2100.