- This thesis develops a manual for interpreters at six National Park Service areas established to preserve and interpret fossils of the Cenozoic Era: Fossil Butte National Monument (Wyoming), John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (Oregon), Badlands National Park (South Dakota), Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument (Colorado), Agate Fossil Beds National Monument (Nebraska), and Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument (Idaho). The manual will help interpreters place their park’s story into the context of three components of paleoecosystems preserved in each park: changes in geologic landscapes, global climate, and the evolution of mammals. It also provides context for interpreting modern climate change. The colorful landscapes of the Cenozoic fossil parks preserve evidence of changing landscapes, climates, and life as well as clues about change affecting our future. Because the six parks are nationally and globally significant paleontological sites, they also offer interpretive opportunities to connect visitors to the science of paleontology. The manual is written for interpreters with a variety of geology, other science and humanities backgrounds. The first three chapters provide a basic foundation of paleontological knowledge and interpretive resources applicable
to all of the parks. Chapter 1 is an introduction to the scope and significance of the fossils and paleoecosystems preserved in each of the Cenozoic fossil parks. Chapter 2 outlines NPS interpretive theory and offers practical information for developing paleontology interpretation and interpreting longterm
paleoecosystem evolution. Chapter 3 provides geologic content and interpretive methods for answering three common questions visitors ask: How old are these fossils? What is a fossil? and Were all these fossils found here? Interpretive responses to these questions allow visitors to connect with the Cenozoic Era, fossilization processes, and the profound sense of place afforded by the fossil parks. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 summarize how the major components of ecosystems changed between the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago and the beginning of the Pleistocene “ice ages” 2.6 million years ago. Chapter 4 details the active geologic processes—mountain building and volcanic activity—of the American West during this time period and how these processes helped form and preserve the paleoecosystems of the parks. Chapter 5 places the parks’ paleoecosystems in chronological order and relates them to the global climate transition from the “greenhouse” world (nearly-tropical forests and lakes at Fossil Butte NM, John Day Fossil Beds NM, Badlands NP, and Florissant Fossil Beds NM) of 65 to 34 million years ago, to the “icehouse” world (cooler and drier woodlands, savannahs, and grasslands at John Day Fossil Beds NM, Badlands NP, Agate Fossil Beds NM, and Hagerman Fossil Beds NM) beginning 34 million years ago and continuing today. Chapter 6 traces the evolution of the horse during this time of global change from a four-toed, dog-sized browser to a hoofed, zebra-sized grazer on the grasslands of the American West. Chapter 7 describes the “ice ages” that followed the stories of the Cenozoic fossil parks. It also places the global climatic and ecosystem changes told by the
Cenozoic fossil parks in the context of modern, rapid, anthropogenic climate changes. Each chapter includes “Digging Deeper” boxes that provide more detailed geologic content, or interpretive suggestions.