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Fossils and fire: a study on the effects of fire on paleontological resources at Badlands National Park. Fossils from Federal Lands


Benton, Rachel; Reardon, James. 2006. Fossils and fire: a study on the effects of fire on paleontological resources at Badlands National Park. Fossils from Federal Lands. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin. 34: 47-54.

National Park Service policies stipulate that each park with vegetation capable of burning will prepare a fire management plan. Badlands National Park completed its fire management plan in 2004. Fossils are a principle resource of the park and the fire sensitivity of fossils is the focus of this study. The surface temperatures of fossil specimens and fire behavior characteristics were monitored in prescribed fires on the landscape and in laboratory burns to develop an understanding of the relationship between burning conditions and changes in fossil specimen properties. Under laboratory conditions, low intensity and low to intermediate rates of spread, the surface temperatures of fossil specimens showed limited temperature increases and no surface discoloration. The fossils included invertebrates from the Cretaceous Pierre Shale and fossil mammal remains from the Eocene/Oligocene White River Group. All specimens had been confiscated during law enforcement activities within the park. The results from burns under these conditions showed that only fossil specimens that were in contact with burning fuel showed increased surface temperatures and discoloration. The laboratory results from burns conducted under high intensity and high rates of spread conditions showed increased surface temperatures and surface discoloration and that the changes in fossil specimen properties were not dependent upon contact with fuel. In field trials during the spring of 2001, prescribed burn treatments were limited by environmental conditions to low rate of spread and low intensity burns. Under these conditions high surface temperatures and surface discoloration were observed on samples that were in direct contact with fuel. Samples that were not in contact with fuel did not show surface discoloration or significant surface heating. Both laboratory and field burns suggest that low to moderate fire conditions have minimal impact on fossil resources except in areas where the fossils are in contact with fuel. The laboratory portion of this study suggests that significant fire effects would be found under high spread rate and high intensity conditions even though there is no fuel contact.

Keywords: fossils, fire, National Park Service, Badlands National Park


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Title: RMRS Other Publications: Distribution of bark beetle attacks after whitebark pine restoration treatments: A case study
Electronic Publish Date: March 30, 2007
Last Update:
March 30, 2007

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