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Grand Staircase-Escalante
Utah FNAWS work paying off...


Article Last Updated: 9/16/2006 03:24 AM

Grand Staircase-Escalante is a science treasure trove

The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune

The monument boasts unlimited potential for anthropological and archaeological research. Since 1999, land managers have worked with Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University on a series of excavations along the Escalante River canyon and uplands. Their work offers a better understanding of the time when Anasazi and Fremont cultures came in contact with each other just before both abandoned the area. The findings probably will provide the standard archaeological text for decades. Other projects include research of American Indians - including the Paiutes and Hopis - with a history in the monument.
Since 1999, wildlife biologists, working with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, have brought more than 100 pronghorn antelope and nearly 50 desert bighorn sheep to the monument to restore the populations. The pronghorn program has proved successful enough to allow limited hunting this year. Scientists also reintroduced several river otters last year in the Escalante River. Experts educate the public about native plants and test ways to battle invasive species. The Grand Staircase also offers a grand lab for the study of insects, especially a wide variety of beetles and more than 600 bee species.
A University of Utah geology professor has pioneered a groundwater theory on how so-called "Moqui marbles" may have been formed from the dissolution and reprecipitation of iron from Navajo sandstone. The process may explain similar formations discovered on Mars, which would suggest the presence of water on the Earth's neighboring planet.
Experts are unearthing a plethora of fossils, painting a more precise picture of North America during the late Jurassic period. The monument also boasts one of the most complete records of fossilized land vertebrate life from the Cretaceous. The Kaiparowits Basin Project in 2000 yielded fossils unique to the monument with some so well preserved they reveal skin impressions and claws. Six new dinosaur species have been identified and many new species of other animals from fish to mammals have surfaced. This year, the monument announced the discovery of a toothless oviraptor named Hagryphus giganteus, a cousin of the rapacious velociraptor.
Hydrologists, botanists and range conservationists rely on information from a groundbreaking soil survey. Crews check water quality at 25 locations and 20 stations track weather across the monument.
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