Archaeological Resources
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Fossils in the Ruhenstroth Area of the Pine Nut Mountains of Nevada

Fossils are the recognizable remains of bones, shells, plants and other evidence of past life on earth; they are a non-renewable resource that is available only once. When fossils are inadvertently moved or destroyed due to ground impacting activities or improper collection, the result is the loss of a portion of the earth's history – our common history. Scientists tell us that written records are available for only a tiny fraction of the history of the earth and understanding the buried historical record requires careful detective work. Protecting these fragile resources for future generations is a small part of BLM’s responsibilities.

Can BLM Protect Fossils on Public Land?

BLM managers and scientists realize that fossils exist in many locations in Nevada and that varied public needs and uses make it impractical to intensively manage all federal public land just to preserve the fossil record. However, a 2,340 acre area has been identified south of Fish Springs Road in the southwestern portion of the Pine Nut Mountains of Douglas County that contains unique fossils that are an important slice of the paleontological history of the western Great Basin in Nevada.

There are at least 10 major paleontological zones within this area, known locally as Ruhenstroth, and the potential to identify other sites within this Tertiary sedimentary horizon is high. Ancient animals that lived here during the Pliocene Era (roughly 2.5 million years ago), and whose fossil remains have been identified, include large, extinct species of camels and horses, mastodons, sloths, zebras, otters, wild dogs, and various small mammals and fish. The fossil vertebrate remains were generally deposited in ancient rivers and flood plains (the nature of the pebbles, sands, silts and clays surrounding these fossils indicate they were caught up in a river setting and covered with the silts and sands as moving waters carried these sediments around and over the carcasses).

Vertebrate fossils such as dinosaurs, mammals, fishes and reptiles, and uncommon invertebrate fossils may be collected only by trained researchers under BLM permit. Collected fossils remain the property of all Americans and are placed with museums or other public institutions after study.

Are we losing the fossil record in the Pine Nut Mountains?

In the last 10 years the population on the western interface to the Pine Nut Mountains has grown in leaps and bounds. An exponential increase in public motorized use of this area has created significant impacts to these fragile fossil resources. Soil erosion and OHV trail/play area expansion from churning, knobby-tread tires, mostly on OHV’s coming from housing developments adjacent to the Pine Nut Mountains (but increasingly from riders from Carson City/Reno and California), has exposed fossil remains that are being destroyed by direct contact and illegal collection.

What is the current status of the Ruhenstroth Area?

There is on-going interest by the public and within the BLM to consider designation of the area as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern.  This designation can only be established through a land use planning process.  For more information on the current land use planning process, click here.

For more information on the Ruhenstroth area, please call: (775) 885-6000.

Last updated: 04-13-2012