SALT LAKE CITY — The first Utahn convicted under a federal paleontological protection act for taking a fossilized dinosaur footprint from public land avoided prison Monday.
U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball sentenced Jared Ehlers, 35, to one year of probation, including six months of home confinement. He also must pay $15,090 in restitution.
Ehlers, of Moab, is the second person in Utah to be charged and the first convicted under the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act. Signed into law in 2009, the law protects dinosaur tracks and prehistoric fossils from vandalism and theft.
At his sentencing hearing, Ehlers told the judge he didn't have much to say other than he's "extremely sorry for the horrible decision that I made."
Ehlers took a 150-pound rock slab containing a fossil of a three-toed dinosaur track from the Sand Flats Recreation Area in February. He then dumped it off the Dewey Bridge into the Colorado River in March to hide the theft.
Grand County officials spent $990 and the Utah Department of Public Safety $14,100 trying to recover the rock from the river. Neither was successful.
Tara Isaacson, Ehlers' attorney, said Ehlers didn't steal the fossil with the intent to sell or trade it. He saw it loose on an off-road trail with tire marks on it and removed it without thinking how serious that would be, she said.
Ehlers didn't hide the fact that he'd taken the rock, telling friends what he'd found. A jeep tour guide noticed it missing and reported it to authorities. Ehlers learned of the investigation and tossed the slab into the river.
"He panicked and made a bad call," Isaacson said.
Ehlers earlier pleaded guilty to one count of removal of a paleontological resource as part of plea deal. Kimball dismissed three other counts of theft and depredation of government property and destruction of evidence. Ehlers must pay the county and state for the two unsuccessful searches.
Isaacson said the felony conviction is the toughest thing for Ehlers, who owns a construction company, to deal with because, as an avid hunter, he can no longer own a gun or hunt with his sons.
"He's going to suffer significant consequences as a result of his bad judgment," she said.
In 2011, John Faustman Cowan, of Moab, was charged under the paleontological preservation act with stealing a dinosaur footprint.
Prosecutors dismissed the case last year after he followed terms of a pretrial agreement that required him to look for a job, not travel out of state and stay off Bureau of Land Management property in Utah.