Update: I mentioned this about a month ago, and no one seemed to notice. Fortunately, however, the story has been picked up at Evolving Thoughts, Pharyngula, A Blog Around the Clock, and Our Descent Into Madness, so hopefully more people will get involved now that the story has hit some higher-profile science blogs.
Update the 2nd: Sean, via the Pharyngula comments, has rightly pointed out that nearly every post on this topic has used the words “bomb” or “bombing” in conjunction with army and fossils, at least implicitly connecting the idea that the army is going to somehow use dino tracks for target practice (we know they’ve used fossils before, and don’t even ask about what they did to whales during WWII). A little bit of research, however, tells us that it is unlikely that live munitions will destroy the ichnofossils; GlobalSecurity.org tells us that the Pinon Canyon site is a non-live-fire training area. This, however, isn’t exactly true as Fort Carson won the ability to have live-fire exercises (although they are, to the best of my knowledge, small-arms practice so far) in 2003, a point that seems to make many of the local people feel betrayed as they were promised live-fire maneuvers would not take place there). The “bomb into the stone age” line is just too juicy (or cliched, if you please) to ignore however, and perhaps a false image of what goes on at the training area has been created (although the military has been cryptic as to their plans for the site and perhaps could expand to some live-fire exercises; if they don’t tell us, how can we know?). Nevertheless, even though there might not be bombs going off at Pinon Canyon, this does not mean that the fossils will be preserved. Indeed, some reports (see the various links in the post) have suggested that some fossils on the existing base have already been destroyed, and obviously whatever tracks existed on the base would not be open to viewing by the public.
Hypothetical battles between the US Military and dinosaurs/assorted monsters have long been a staple of comic books (here’s a page from Star Spangled War Stories), but now it seems that the modern American military may yet blow up some dinosaurs, although it’s more akin to “[bombing] a dead horse”. Indeed, as stated on page 20 of the May 2007 issue of National Geographic, Colorado’s Fort Carson is looking to expand its current holdings into territory now containing private lands, Comanche National Grassland, and the site of some of the best dinosaur trackways ever discovered.
From agriculture to paleontology, everyone is going to lose if the Fort Carson expansion goes ahead as planned through the use of perhaps one of the most dishonest forms of land acquisition; eminent domain. So far, however, the army hasn’t exactly been forthcoming in its plans and claims that it would prefer to obtain new land from willing sellers rather than force it, but I don’t think anyone can blame me if I’m a bit skeptical about the military’s intentions. Why does the military need more land at all? So far I’ve seen excuses ranging from an increase in troops at the base to the need for training dealing with longer-range combat, but overall the officials involved have been secretive about their dealings and ideas for any expansion.
Needless to say, many farmers and people who live in towns that would be engulfed by the expansion (as far as we understand it, that is) aren’t too happy about this, and have set up the Pinon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coaltion (it could use a less awkward title, but it says what it is). While I am concerned about people being forced off their own land by the government, I also worry about the ecological impact of an expanded army base as well as the great loss such an expansion would be to paleontology. All we have left from the Mesozoic is in the ground, and if the army is allowed to destroy the trackways and skeletons found in the area, those resources will be forever lost. Hell, it’s already happening already, fossils being found throughout the area (even within the existing base) and who knows what else might be in the rock.
Simply put, the expansion of Fort Carson is unnecessary, unwanted, and dangerous; a huge mistake in the making. The army must be prevented from gaining more ground in the area, for the people, ecology, and even fossils of the area are far more valuable and important than some extra elbow room for soldiers.