America’s best idea just got better, with the announcement today of an addition of some 40 square miles of fossil-rich lands to the U.S. Petrified Forest National Park (PFNP).
“The National Park Service and The Conservation Fund announced today the conservation of approximately 26,000 acres in northeast Arizona full of significant paleontological and archeological resources within the Petrified Forest National Park acquisition boundary,” the two entities said in a news release today.
“While most noted for its petrified trees that have turned completely into stone over the last 225 million years, the Park also features plant and animal fossils from the Late Triassic period. Researchers anticipate that this acquisition will provide new opportunities for scientific discovery,” the statement added.
PFNP is famous for its expansive vistas of colorful eroding badlands of the Painted Desert, stark landscapes and the rainbow hues of large petrified trees found in concentration throughout the park, the statement explained. “Once a lush landscape of coniferous trees and riverways, the park is now a dynamic laboratory offering unparalleled opportunities for scientific research and one-of-a-kind experiences for more than 631,000 visitors each year.”
The lands acquired for PFNP were previously owned and managed as ranchland by the Hatch Family Partnership. Located south of Interstate 40 and the Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railway line, the Hatch tracts will connect lands managed by the State of Arizona and National Park Service, preserving a large portion of the property inside the acquisition boundary and expanding the Park ownership by nearly 25 percent, said The National Park Service and The Conservation Fund.
“This is an important milestone in the National Park Service’s long effort to protect the rich natural and cultural landscape in and around Petrified Forest National Park,” said Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service. “By acquiring a purchase option two years ago, our partners at The Conservation Fund bridged the gap so that we could work with Congress for the funds to buy this significant acreage for the American people. On their behalf, we thank The Fund. This extension of Petrified Forest’s boundaries will increase our knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Arizona’s Painted Desert environment and its archeological and fossil wonders.”
“The potential for notable paleontological discoveries on the new property far surpasses much of what is in the existing park boundaries,” said PFNP Paleontologist Bill Parker. “Institutions such as the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Natural History, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Texas at Austin have had success in the past finding fossils of animals and plants on this property. What we learn from these fossil deposits may dramatically increase our knowledge of life during the Triassic Period in Earth’s history.”
Park Archaeologist Bill Reitze said: “Preliminary surveys of the new property have shown potential for a number of archaeological sites including large, early basketmaker villages and phenomenal petroglyph sites. Acquisition of this land may significantly enhance our knowledge of early peoples of the area.”
For over 100 years, the federal government has played a lead role in conserving the Petrified Forest and its rich variety of historic and cultural resources that benefit the public through tourism and academic research, today’s news statement pointed out. “In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt used his authority provided by the Antiquities Act to establish Petrified Forest National Monument to protect the area’s mineralized trees, fossils and archeological resources from commercial exploitation, illegal collecting and vandalism. In 1962, Congress designated the area as a National Park. The Arizona Congressional delegation championed the passage of boundary expansion legislation in 2004 authorizing the potential expansion of the park from 93,353 acres to 218,533 acres to preserve the irreplaceable resources associated with the Late Triassic period.
“Over the last several years, Congress approved the funds needed for this significant acquisition through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal land protection program that receives significant revenue from the development of federally-owned offshore oil and gas rights. No taxpayer dollars are used to support the fund, which has been protecting forests, natural resources, state and local parks and recreation areas since 1965.”
Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) said: “This is a significant step in preserving the unique and prehistoric resources inside the Petrified Forest National Park. More work remains to be done and we will continue to look for achievable ways to protect the Park for the enjoyment and educational value of future generations of Americans.”
“The Petrified Forest National Park is an irreplaceable archeological and historical site that serves as an economic engine for Northeastern Arizona. In 2009, visitors to the Petrified Forest spent over $80 million in the area, sustaining hundreds of jobs in the surrounding communities,” said Congressman Paul Gosar (AZ-01). “This initiative, started in 2004 by Arizona Congressman Rick Renzi and Senators Jon Kyl and John McCain, is an important step towards ensuring the efficient management and preservation of this important aspect of our state’s tourism economy.”
“More than 100 years ago, Teddy Roosevelt conserved the Petrified Forest as one of America’s first national monuments to protect its resources from vandalism and theft,” said Mike Ford, Southwest Director for The Conservation Fund. “Today, after more than 10 years of hard work by the National Park Service, the Fund, the Hatch family, Arizona’s Congressional delegation and many partners, we have preserved some of the world’s great fossil and archeological treasures for generations to come.”
“Congratulations to everyone whose hard work led to this landmark acquisition,” said Kevin Dahl, Arizona program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. “After so many years it is a relief and joy to celebrate this major step toward completing the promise of the 2004 park boundary expansion. As for the future, we hope the Land and Water Conservation Fund can be used soon to purchase the other equally significant private lands within Petrified Forest National Park.”
David Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.
He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.
Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship.