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The bones of Bears Ears

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Science  18 Jan 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6424, pp. 218-220
DOI: 10.1126/science.363.6424.218

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Summary

Thousands of Permian and Triassic fossils pepper Bears Ears National Monument, a sweep of buttes and badlands in southwestern Utah whose sedimentary rocks catalog hundreds of millions of years of Earth's history. The region's rich paleontological and archaeological record persuaded former President Barack Obama to designate the area a national monument in the waning days of his administration. But in December 2017, President Donald Trump slashed the size of the monument by 85%, prompting the typically apolitical Society for Vertebrate Paleontology to sue—along with environmentalists, archaeologists, outdoor companies, and five Native American tribes. If they win, the ruling could set a precedent that would help safeguard the boundaries of 158 national monuments; if they lose, future presidents could gain new powers to downsize them. Paleontologists fear a ruling against them would have devastating consequences for Bears Ears, just as they are starting to uncover fossils there that could rewrite Earth's early history.

  • * April Reese is a freelance journalist based in Santa Fe.