Dinosaur National Monument, home to some of Utah's most amazing dinosaur bone discoveries, will be losing two positions that are currently filled, Superintendent Mary Risser confirmed Tuesday.
The national monument is chronically underfunded. In July 2006 the famous visitor center, enclosing a cliff studded with 1,500 dinosaur fossils, was forced to close. Built in 1957 on clay-infused formations, the center had began to shift. The library had to be abandoned because support beams flexed through a wall. Gaps more than a foot wide appeared where the building continued to pull away from the cliff.
Later, telephones in the temporary replacement visitor center began acting up. Staff members could call out, but nobody could call in.
In the national monument's latest woes, the jobs of a museum technician and a geologist are ending. The geologist carries out preparatory work, removing stone matrix from fossil bone. However, the monument's paleontologist, Dan Chure, will stay, she said.
During a telephone interview Tuesday Risser said Chure, who has a doctorate in paleontology, is considered a paleontologist while the others are not. Chure is a research scientist at the monument.
Risser said that since 2004, the monument has saved $700,000 through personnel funds, out of an overall budget of about $3 million yearly. The savings were accomplished by combining jobs when vacancies appeared, including Risser herself taking over two other jobs.
"If we hadn't made these cuts we'd be roughly $700,000 in the red right now," she said.
Spread across the Utah-Colorado border, Dinosaur National Monument covers 210,000 acres. Monument officials have many other responsibilities than caring for fossils. They must manage river canyons, scenery, cultural resources, wildlife and invasive plants. "It's just multifaceted," she said.
"It's a big park, and we have a lot of different resources that we're mandated to protect and a lot of different areas of expertise," she said.
As a corollary, she said it might not make sense to keep an aquatic biologist on staff. The park includes both the Yampa and the Green rivers, but aquatic biology could be managed by a wildlife expert who could call on outside help if needed. Similarly, when jobs presently performed by the technician or geologist need to be done, the national monument could bring in outside experts from museums, universities or the private sector, she said.
"We can bring in the people that are most suited to whatever the current situation is," Risser said.
"Nobody is planning on eliminating the paleo program," she added. But with budget constraints, Dinosaur National Monument needs to "get the work done somewhere else."
Asked when the changes will happen, she said it won't be before "we are able to offer them other opportunities. There are a couple of options for these folks."
For example, they may be able to find the same jobs at the same pay levels at another park. Or there could be job training.
"This is happening all over the region," Risser added.
The National Park Service has used this approach with other types of resource management and it has been successful, she said. Still, Risser conceded, "It's an emotional issue because some of the people who are involved have been here for a long time.
"But as a manager you have to sit back and address what's the best approach for the limited money we have."
A new visitor center is expected to be built at a cost of about $8 million to $10 million. But this expense has no impact on the personnel budget, the superintendent said. "That comes out of a different pot" of money, she said. The construction comes from a line-item construction budget.
Preparations for the new center are proceeding, she said. Draft and final environmental impact statements were completed, and "we have money to start moving forward with the design."
That could be finished in a year.Meanwhile, a dinosaur curatorial facility is to be built in downtown Vernal, in a partnership among the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation, the national monument, the city of Vernal and Uintah County.
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