Neron and Jason Taylor of Western River Expeditions are spearheading the fundraising drive for the reward money from the community.
“Whoever stole this track, they stole it from everybody. They stole it from future generations who could have learned from it,” Taylor said. “We’re trying to help get the word out and maybe somebody knows whoever did this. We want to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
The track, which BLM officials say is 190 million years old, was cut or pried from a section of Navajo sandstone along the Hell’s Revenge trail east of Moab sometime between late afternoon on Feb. 17 and the morning of Feb. 18.
The theft was reported to the BLM by Kent Green, co-owner of Moab Cowboy Country Offroad Adventures. Green told The Times-Independent on Feb. 19 that the footprint was intact when he passed by with a tour group the previous day, but when he visited the site on Feb. 18 he saw the track was missing.
“It’s the most pristine, beautiful track. It was just perfect,” Green said. “It’s just sad.”
The stolen track was made by a theropod – a three-toed meat-eating dinosaur. The thieves removed a rock slab measuring about 1 foot by 3 feet and which weighed approximately 200 pounds, BLM officials have said. Fossils and dinosaur tracks on public lands are protected paleontological resources and anyone convicted of stealing, defacing or damaging them could face fines and a potential prison term, said Lisa Bryant, assistant director of the BLM’s Moab Field Office.
ReBecca Hunt-Foster, a paleontologist with the Moab BLM office, said the stolen artifact is “priceless.”
“When fossil resources like dinosaur tracks are damaged, vandalized or stolen, we all lose something priceless,” Hunt-Foster said. “These fossils belong to all Americans. When fossils like these are taken, we lose irreplaceable scientific and educational opportunities to explore some of the natural history that makes Utah’s public lands so special.”
The theft has angered many local outfitters, especially those who conduct tours in the Hell’s Revenge area.
“[The dinosaur track] is a highlight for people on the tour of that area,” said Neron, adding that John Marshall, who owns Coyote Land Tours, stops at the site to discuss paleontology and geology. “People are so excited to see it. And now it’s gone. It just makes you angry. Something like that has been here 190 million years and now it’s gone.”
Taylor said the missing track will now be “a good talking point” to teach visitors about the importance of protecting cultural and paleontological resources. But more than anything, he said, the theft makes him angry.
“It was one of the most well-defined tracks in the area and someone took it for themselves,” Taylor said. “It’s definitely a sad day for the history of this area.”
BLM officials said investigators are pursuing “several leads” but they are asking for the public’s help in finding the person or persons responsible for the theft. Anyone who may have information about the incident is asked to contact Moab BLM law enforcement at 435-259-2100 or the state BLM law enforcement office at 801-539-4082.
Anyone who would like to contribute to the reward money being raised by the outfitters can contact Neron at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Taylor at Jason@westernriver.com.
The agency is also looking for volunteers to serve as paleontology site stewards. Site stewards monitor specific areas and document issues including vandalism, theft, and natural erosion. For more information about becoming a paleontology site steward, please contact Hunt-Foster at 435-259-2179.