Paleontology is the study of life (exclusive of hominids for our purposes) in past geologic time. It is a natural science closely associated with geology and biology. Scientifically significant paleontological resources are identified sites or geologic deposits containing individual fossils or assemblages of fossils that are unique or unusual, diagnostically or stratigraphically important, and add to the existing body of knowledge in specific areas, stratigraphically, taxonomically, or regionally (based on a definition by Robert Reynolds). In geologically diverse California, vertebrate, invertebrate, and plant fossils are usually found in sedimentary and metasedimentary deposits.
Caltrans and local project sponsors, as part of the project development and delivery process, are obligated to conduct paleontological studies and mitigation when necessary in response to federal and state laws and regulations. Local project sponsors also need to comply with their local laws and ordinances. Caltrans makes the effort to comply with local laws and ordinances when feasible, but is not obligated to do so. When addressed proactively, paleontological resources are not likely to restrict project options or slow project delivery, but they will add to the body of scientific knowledge.
Policy & Procedures
Volume 1, Chapter 8 of the Standard Environmental Reference (SER) provides an overview of relevant laws and regulations and explains the Caltrans policies and procedures used to identify, evaluate, and, if necessary, mitigate paleontological resources.
Section 14-7 "Paleontological Resources" of the 2015 Standard Specifications, instructs Caltrans construction contractors regarding actions to take when unanticipated paleontological resources are encountered during construction of a transportation project. Section 14-7 applies to all projects conducted on the state highway system.
Standard Special Provisions
When the potential for project excavation to disturb scientifically significant paleontological resources is identified through environmental review, standard special provision (SSP) 14-7.04 Paleontological Resources Mitigation must be included in the construction contract. For assistance with paleontological SSPs, contact the applicable district Environmental Branch. To access SSPs use the 2015 Standard Special Provisions search function.
- Geologic Maps
The California Geologic Survey, in cooperation with the US Geological Survey, has made Geologic maps of California available online. These are small scale maps so they may not show enough detail for a project area, but they are an excellent place to start.
Several California museums have helpful information about paleontological resources. Some provide online access to collection information. Examples follow:
- University of California (Berkeley) Museum of Paleontology (UCMP)
- Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
- California Academy of Science
- Invertebrate Zoology and Geology
- Collections Databases
- San Bernardino County Museum
- County General Plans & Related Resources
Some counties have general plans posted online that include valuable information about the geologic formations present within the County and in many cases the paleontological sensitivity of those formations. This information may be valuable when preparing a Paleontological Identification Report. When viewing the documents search on terms such as "formation", "paleo", and "fossils" to find applicable information. Examples follow:
- Contra Costa County
- Mendocino County (geologic information only)
- Orange County
- General Plan Resources Element (see pages VI-113 – VI-116 and Figure VI-9 PALEONTOLOGY – General Areas of Sensitivity)
- San Bernardino County
- San Diego County Paleontological Resource Guidelines (PDF)
- Solano County (see the EIR for references to paleontological resources)
- Federal Agencies