Heritage Heroes preserve record of the Age of Mammals from 50 million years ago

Story by Cynthia Herhahn, Federal Preservation Officer. Photos by the Prineville District Office.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is pleased to announce the newest winners of the “Heritage Heroes Awards.” BLM offices nominated individuals and groups of employees, volunteers, and project partners for their significant support of cultural heritage, history, paleontological resources, museum collections programs, or Tribal consultation within the scope of BLM’s Cultural Heritage Program.

For the group award, the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (JODA) paleontology and museum division staff in Oregon are recognized for their preservation stewardship of BLM’s fossil resources through a 40-year partnership with the BLM.

As the repository for BLM Oregon Prineville District’s paleontological fossil resources spanning the last 50 million years, JODA continues to catalog, prepare and house significant BLM fossil specimens from the Age of Mammals at JODA’s Thomas Condon Paleontology Center. JODA exhibits, researches, curates, and interprets the most complete plant and mammal fossil record in the world from both BLM and National Park Service (NPS)-managed lands. JODA museum collections hold about 13,000 fossils from BLM-administered lands.

Up-close look at black-colored teeth
Fossil mouse teeth from the Age of Mammals collected from BLM-administered lands.

JODA paleontologists helped identify the fossil rich BLM-managed lands now protected by the John Day Paleontology Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), which includes over 31,000 acres containing fossil exposures as or more significant than those within neighboring NPS-managed lands. Prior to the ACEC’s designation, JODA collaborated with the BLM to examine hundreds of square miles of geologic exposures and measure numerous stratigraphic sections, allowing for the accurate mapping and dating of collected fossils. These efforts helped raise awareness of the significance of the BLM fossil resources and contributed to the designation of the ACEC. The partnership between the Prineville District Office and JODA helps tell the public the complete story of the John Day River Basin’s Age of Mammals as neither the NPS nor the BLM alone can do.

More recently, JODA partnered with the BLM to hire a BLM-funded museum technician in 2021 and 2022. This employee cataloged, prepared, and rehoused BLM fossil specimens to support public education and scientific research at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center. The museum technician’s work included confirming the ownership of BLM fossils through land status research, improving data for cataloged BLM fossils, molding and casting fossils, conducting public outreach, and visiting BLM localities with NPS staff. The ongoing project leverages NPS JODA expertise and supervision with BLM funding to maximize outcomes for paleontological resources and the public.

A woman (JODA fossil preparator) shows techniques for casting replicas of fossils to a group of three museum technicians who are looking on dressed in their lab coats.
JODA fossil preparator, Jennifer Calvin, demonstrates techniques for casting replicas of fossils to seasonal museum technicians.

While JODA staff have made significant contributions to the BLM’s paleontological resources and museum collections programs over the years, the BLM would like to recognize specific individuals including: Ted Fremd, Josh Samuels, Nick Famoso, Jennifer Cavin, Christopher Schierup, Amy Atwater, Beth Carroll, Matt Smith, Scott Foss, Camille Evans, Kelly Cahill, Ellen Stepleton, Kim Sikoryak, Regan Dunn, Liz Lovelock, Skylar Rickabaugh, John Zancanella, Ben Ladd, Jim Hammett, Shelley Hall, Patrick Gamman, and Roy Zipp. The contributions of numerous seasonal staff and contractors are also appreciated.

A man kneeling down and using a tool to pick at a white rock.
JODA intern excavating a fossil.

The Prineville District is thankful for JODA and its amazing group of Heritage Heroes!