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From public lands to city musuem—five-ton fossil finds new home at St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm

Contact: Rachel Tueller, Public Affairs Specialist 435-865-3032 or Rachel_Tueller@blm.gov

St. George, Utah—September 8, 2008—This Friday, September 12, 2008, at 8:15 a.m. as much as 5.2 tons of petrified wood will be transported from the Bureau of Land Management St. George field office on 345 East Riverside Dr. to the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm at 2180 East Riverside Drive.  Displaying the 200 plus million-year-old petrified tree at the museum will enable curators to use a true “fossilized record” to tell a portion of Washington County’s geologic history while conveying the important role natural resources play.

 “We thought it’d be a good idea for us to display it in front of the museum to help the BLM get the message across to the public about the importance of preserving natural resources for future generations,” said Andrew Milner, City Paleontologist and Curator with the Dinosaur Discovery Site.

“It also helps us put our message across at Johnson Farm—we can’t get a really good understanding of what’s going on at the beginning of the Jurassic without going back and looking at life in the late Triassic period of which this tree is from,” said Milner. “It’s a nice partnership,” he added.

Pulled from the upper Shinarump member of the Chinle formation, the tree is approximately 225 million years old—from the time period in which the first dinosaurs appeared.

“So we can use the tree to not only educate people about the laws on public, state and private lands but also for interpretation—to  look at what life was like in the late Triassic compared to life in the early Jurassic,” Milner said. 

Museum coordinator Anneli Segura was excited about the prospect of partnering with the BLM and the opportunity for the Museum to be the tree’s final destination. For the museum, which averages roughly 40,000 visitors annually, the relic gives patrons even more offerings for viewing.

“We have trace fossils, track ways, plant and fish fossils, dinosaur teeth and now we have this tree. It adds to the mix and variety of what we can show our patrons and it’s from the area,” said Segura.
According to Milner, while fossilized wood is very common in the area, a lot of people simply don’t know where to go and look at these types of fossils in a natural setting.  “It’s something people can actually get up close to and they can touch it and experience it,” he said.

For the Bureau of Land Management, the donation provides an opportunity to turn an unfortunate situation into an educational advantage. “It turns out the tree was actually stolen from BLM lands and there was a lot of damage to the site where the tree was found,” said Milner who visited the site where the tree was removed illegally from public lands in 2007.

“Part of this tree, if not all of it, came from a trench that was 60 feet long. A lot of locals knew about it—it was a beautiful big tree. But now there’s just a big scar in the ground. It really destroyed the aesthetic beauty of the place. It’s kind of sad in that respect,” Milner said.

In 2007, BLM Rangers recovered the petrified tree which was removed illegally from public lands administered by the St. George Field Office. “After the legal process was completed the St. George BLM Field Office and the City of St. George agreed that the 25-foot-long conifer tree trunk fossil would provide an impressive educational exhibit at the Dinosaur Discovery site at Johnson's Farm,” said Russell Schreiner, geologist for the BLM who coordinated Friday’s donation and transfer efforts.

“Considering the circumstances surrounding it, I think this is the best place for it. Out of a negative comes a positive. This will give a lot of people an opportunity to learn about it and enjoy it,” Segura said.

The piece will also add to the exciting additions and changes ahead in the museums future. “It’s going to enhance the museum and improve the exhibits. It’s another piece to add to our future vision of the museum at Johnson Farms,” said Milner.

What’s next for the ancient tree?

  • Johnson Farm scientists will reinforce the tree itself and preserve the fossil with chemicals to penetrate the rock and solidify the cracks
  • Pieces of wood will be sent to specialists to study and identify the wood and tree type.
  • Interpretive signs at the museum’s entrance where the tree reside will provide information on the tree type, how it relates to the Discovery Site, as well as educational information regarding fossil collecting laws on public lands.

For more information, contact Rachel Tueller at (435) 865-3032.

Last updated: 03-04-2011