UTAH

After years of griping about national monuments, Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, wants to create one. The ranking member of the House Resources Committee is hoping to preserve 50 acres of Jurassic-era dinosaur tracks unearthed last year in St. George, Utah. The tracks show uniquely sharp detail of knuckles, tail drags and skin texture.

But there's a catch.

To pay for the monument, Hansen told the Deseret News, he'd consider supporting a plan to dissolve two-thirds of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, reassigning some of the money to St. George. "You could easily shrink Grand Staircase. Two-thirds of it is nothing special, just mostly sagebrush," he told the paper. "You just keep the areas that are truly special."

One patch of sagebrush that opponents say is vulnerable is the Kaiparowits Plateau, where a coal mine was proposed several years ago (HCN, 7/25/94). Paleontologist and monument staffer Alan Titus says the portion of the monument encompassing the Kaiparowits Plateau has the best known record of terrestrial animals dated to the dinosaur age. Anything less than monument status could be devastating for the artifacts, he says.

Hansen has not made any formal proposal to modify the monument's boundaries or reallocate funding, and activists say he may be bluffing.

"There's nothing wrong with protecting dinosaur tracks, but it's a red herring to link it with Grand Staircase," says Keith Hammond of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "Basically, it's a way for Hansen to grandstand against the monument."

Hansen will hold public meetings in June on how to preserve the dinosaur tracks in St. George.