Chapter 8 - Paleontology

What does this topic include?

Paleontology, exclusive of the study of fossil humans, is a natural science closely associated with geology and biology. 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 in response to federal, state, and local laws, regulations, and ordinances. When addressed proactively, paleontological resources are not likely to restrict project options or slow project delivery. This chapter provides guidance on pertinent federal and state statutes as well as recommended procedures and document formats.

Subject Matter Decision Tree

Paleontology Process Flowchart (PDF) – Pending

Laws, Regulations, and Guidance

This section summarizes federal and state laws and regulations pertaining to paleontological resources and how these integrate with project development and delivery activities. Policies and/or contact information for federal and state land managing and regulatory agencies that have paleontological authorities and responsibilities are provided directly or by hotlink. In the event that a project involves land owned or administered by another federal or state agency, that agency should be contacted in order to ascertain specific requirements they may have relative to paleontological resources. Additionally, whenever feasible the Department complies with local ordinances concerning paleontological resources. Local ordinances are not summarized in this document and local entities such as cities and counties should be contacted to determine if there are local requirements.

Federal Laws and Regulations

A variety of federal statutes specifically address paleontological resources. They generally become applicable to specific projects if the project involves: 1) a federal agency license, permit, approval, or funding, and/or 2) crosses federal lands.

Antiquities Act of 1906 (16 United States Code [USC] 431-433)

The Antiquities Act of 1906 states, in part:

"That any person who shall appropriate, excavate, injure or destroy any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of antiquity, situated on lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States, without the permission of the Secretary of the Department of the Government having jurisdiction over the lands on which said antiquities are situated, shall upon conviction, be fined in a sum of not more than five hundred dollars or be imprisoned for a period of not more than ninety days, or shall suffer both fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court."

Although there is no specific mention of natural or paleontological resources in the Act itself, or in the Act's uniform rules and regulations (Title 43 Part 3, Code of Federal Regulations [43 CFR 3]), "objects of antiquity" has been interpreted to include fossils by the National Park Service (NPS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Forest Service (USFS), and other federal agencies. Permits to collect fossils on lands administered by federal agencies are authorized under this Act (see "Permit Requirements section, below). Therefore, projects involving federal lands will require permits for both paleontological resource evaluation and mitigation efforts.

Archaeological and Paleontological Salvage (23 USC 305)

Statute 23 USC 305 amends the Antiquities Act of 1906. Specifically, it states:

"Funds authorized to be appropriated to carry out this title to the extent approved as necessary, by the highway department of any State, may be used for archaeological and paleontological salvage in that state in compliance with the Act entitled "An Act for the preservation of American Antiquities," approved June 8, 1906 (PL 59-209; 16 USC 431-433), and State laws where applicable."

This statute allows funding for mitigation of paleontological resources recovered pursuant to federal aid highway projects, provided that "excavated objects and information are to be used for public purposes without private gain to any individual or organization" (Federal Register [FR] 46(19): 9570; [Also see FHWA policy section, below]).

National Registry of Natural Landmarks (16 USC 461-467)

The National Natural Landmarks (NNL) program was established in 1962 and is administered under the Historic Sites Act of 1935. Implementing regulations were first published in 1980 under 36 CFR 1212 and the program was re-designated as 36 CFR 62 in 1981. A National Natural Landmark is defined as:

" area designated by the Secretary of the Interior as being of national significance to the United States because it is an outstanding example(s) of major biological and geological features found within the boundaries of the United States or its Territories or on the Outer Continental Shelf (36 CFR 62.2)."

National significance describes:

" area that is one of the best examples of a biological community or geological feature within a natural region of the United States, including terrestrial communities, landforms, geological features and processes, habitats of native plant and animal species, or fossil evidence of the development of life (36 CFR 62.2)."

Federal agencies and their agents (e.g., Caltrans) should consider the existence and location of designated NNLs, and of areas found to meet the criteria for national significance, in assessing the effects of their activities on the environment under section 102(2)(c) of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (42 USC 4321). The NPS is responsible for providing requested information about the National Natural Landmarks Program for these assessments (36 CFR 62.6(f)). However, other than consideration under NEPA, NNLs are afforded no special protection. Furthermore, there is no requirement to evaluate a paleontological resource for listing as an NNL. Finally, project proponents (state and local) are not obligated to prepare an application for listing potential NNLs, should such a resource be encountered during project planning and delivery.

Examples of paleontological NNLs in California include:

  • Rancho La Brea – Hancock Park, Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles
  • Sharktooth Hill – Kern County
  • Rainbow Basin – near Barstow, San Bernardino County

For an up-to-date listing of NNLs in California, visit the National Natural Landmarks website.

Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1935 (20 USC 78)

Section 305 of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 (20 USC 78, 78a) gives authority to use federal funds to salvage archaeological and paleontological sites affected by highway projects.

National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA; 54 USC 300101 et seq.)

Section 106 of the NHPA does not apply to paleontological resources unless the paleontological specimens are found in culturally related contexts (e.g., fossil shell included as a mortuary offering in a burial or a culturally-related site such as petrified wood locale used as a chipped stone quarry). In such instances the materials are considered cultural resources and are treated in the manner prescribed for the site in question; mitigation being almost exclusively limited to sites determined eligible for, or listed on, the National Register of Historic Places. It should be emphasized that cooperation between the cultural resource and paleontological disciplines is expected in such instances (see Standard Environmental Reference [SER], Volume 1, Chapter 28).

Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 (23 USC 138; 49 USC 1653)

Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act does not specifically address paleontological resources. This section of the law places restrictions on the ability to take publicly owned land 4(f) properties (which include parks, recreation areas, wildlife or waterfowl refuges, and National Register of Historic Places eligible or listed properties). Paleontological resources would only be addressed under this law if located within a 4(f) property (see SER, Volume 1, Chapter 20).

National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 USC 4321)

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) directs federal agencies to use all practicable means to "Preserve important historic, cultural, and natural aspects of our national heritage..." (Section 101(b) (4)). Regulations for implementing the procedural provisions of NEPA are found in 40 CFR 1500 1508.

If the presence of a significant environmental resource is identified during the scoping process, federal agencies and their agents must take the resource into consideration when evaluating project effects. Consideration of paleontological resources may be required under NEPA when a project is proposed for development on federal land, or land under federal jurisdiction. The level of consideration depends upon the federal agency involved (see section below entitled Identification of Regulatory/Management Agencies).

State Laws and Regulations

The following state laws and regulations are applicable, or potentially applicable, to Caltrans and locally sponsored projects. It will be necessary to assess individual applicability on a project-by-project basis.

California Environmental Quality Act

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Chapter 1, Section 21002) states that:

"It is the policy of the state that public agencies should not approve projects as proposed if there are feasible alternatives or feasible mitigation measures available which would substantially lessen the significant environmental effects of such projects, and that the procedures required are intended to assist public agencies in systematically identifying both the significant effects of proposed projects and the feasible alternatives or feasible mitigation measures which will avoid or substantially lessen such significant effects."

The CEQA Guidelines (Article 1, Section 15002(a)(3)) state that CEQA is intended to:

"Prevent significant, avoidable damage to the environment by requiring changes in projects through the use of alternatives or mitigation measures when the governmental agency finds the changes to be feasible."

If paleontological resources are identified during the Preliminary Environmental Analysis Report (PEAR), or other initial project scoping studies (e.g., Preliminary Environmental Study [PES]), as being within the proposed project area, the sponsoring agency (Caltrans or local) must take those resources into consideration when evaluating project effects. The level of consideration may vary with the importance of the resource.

Periodic review of CEQA related court cases for decisions related to paleontology is also recommended. These cases can be found on the CEQA page at the Governor's Office of Planning & Research website.

California Coastal Act

The California Coastal Act, in part, authorizes the California Coastal Commission (CCC) to review permit applications for development within the coastal zone and, where necessary, to require reasonable mitigation measures to offset effects of that development. Permits for development are issued with "special conditions" to ensure implementation of these mitigation measures.

Section 30244 of the Act, "Archaeological or Paleontological Resources," states that:

"Where development would adversely impact archaeological or paleontological resources as identified by the State Historic Preservation Officer, reasonable mitigation measures shall be required."

If the CCC determines that a paleontological resource is present within an applicant's proposed project area, they generally look for evidence that the applicant has taken the resource into consideration (e.g., through formal survey by a professional paleontologist with implementation of resulting recommendations). If a paleontological site is present, special permit conditions may range from avoidance of the site to construction monitoring and/or salvage of significant fossils. This approach virtually parallels the level of protection afforded to paleontological resources by CEQA. Additionally, the CCC relies heavily on project sponsoring or permitting agencies to ensure compliance with CEQA (and consequently, the California Coastal Act). It is worth noting, however, the CCC permits generally post-date a project's environmental document/determination and may not necessarily be consistent with requirements previously issued other regulatory agencies (see SER, Volume 1, Chapter 18).

Public Resources Code Section 5097.5

Section 50987.5 of the California Public Code Section states:

"No person shall knowingly and willfully excavate upon, or remove, destroy, injure or deface any historic or prehistoric ruins, burial grounds, archaeological or vertebrate paleontological site, including fossilized footprints, inscriptions made by human agency, or any other archaeological, paleontological or historical feature, situated on public lands, except with the express permission of the public agency having jurisdiction over such lands. Violation of this section is a misdemeanor."

As used in this section, "public lands" means lands owned by, or under the jurisdiction of, the state, or any city, county, district, authority, or public corporation, or any agency thereof. Consequently, Caltrans as well as local project proponents, are required to comply with PRC 5097.5 for their own activities, including construction and maintenance, as well as for permit actions (e.g., encroachment permits) undertaken by others.

California Code of Regulations

Two sections of the California Code of Regulations (Title 14, Division 3, Chapter 1), applicable to lands administered by the California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), address paleontological resources. These include:

  • Section 4307: Geological Features - "No person shall destroy, disturb, mutilate, or remove earth, sand, gravel, oil, minerals, rocks, paleontological features, or features of caves."
  • Section 4309: Special Permits - "The Department may grant a permit to remove, treat, disturb, or destroy plants or animals or geological, historical, archaeological or paleontological materials; and any person who has been properly granted such a permit shall to that extent not be liable for prosecution for violating the forgoing."

Local Laws and Regulations

While the Department is not required to comply with local laws and ordinances, it will endeavor to do so to the extent possible.

Various cities and counties have passed ordinances and resolutions related to paleontological resources within their jurisdictions. Examples include the counties of Orange and San Bernardino and the cities of San Diego, Carlsbad, Palmdale, and Chula Vista. These regulations generally provide additional guidance on assessment and treatment measures for projects subject to CEQA compliance. Project staff should periodically coordinate with local entities to update their knowledge of local requirements.


The following term definitions establish a necessary baseline for the subsequent discussion.


- Any remains, trace, or imprint of a plant or animal that has been preserved in the Earth's crust since some past geologic time (Bates and Jackson 1980:243).


- The study of life in past geologic time based on fossil plants and animals and including phylogeny, their relationships to existing plants, animals, and environments, and the chronology of the Earth's history (Bates and Jackson 1980:451).

Paleontologic species

- A morphologic species based on fossil specimens. It may include specimens that would be considered specifically distinct if living individuals could be observed (Bates and Jackson 1980:451).

Paleontological resource

- A locality containing vertebrate, invertebrate, or plant fossils (i.e., fossil location, fossil bearing formation or a formation with the potential to bear fossils).

Identification of Regulatory/Management Agencies

A variety of agencies have potential jurisdiction or involvement in projects that may impact paleontological resources. On the federal level these may include the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the National Park Service (NPS), Forest Service (USFS), and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). On the state level, two outside (i.e., generally not project sponsor) agencies have potential involvement. These include the California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) and the California Coastal Commission (CCC).

Federal Agencies

Federal agency involvement is generally triggered when a project requires a permit, license, authorization, or funding to complete the project. Federal land managing agencies specifically require paleontological permits for conducting project-related resource investigations, both inventory and mitigation, on lands under their jurisdiction. Policy and permit procedures for the BLM, USFS, NPS, and USACE are – as of this drafting – in various stages of development and implementation for each agency. Consequently, specific requirements can and do vary not only between agencies, but between offices of the same agency. Project environmental staff should review information posted on each of these agencies' websites for up-to-date information and points of contact for the local office appropriate to a specific project. The agencies respective URLs are shown below in the corresponding sections.

If a project involves federally administered lands, the appropriate land managing agency office should be contacted early in the project planning phase (e.g., as a part of project scoping and scheduling) so that appropriate time and costs are included in the project to meet their requirements. Some permits may also entail contact with multiple agency offices.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grants Scientific Paleontological Collecting Permits based on the provisions of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA; 43 USC 1701 1782) and the Antiquities Act of 1906.

Permits for paleontological investigations and mitigation may include stipulations that address curation, distribution of articles and reports, qualifications, site restoration, safety, etc. Permit issuance may also entail the involvement of the BLM's State Office in addition to local Field and/or District Offices, so advance planning and coordination is a necessity. Additional information is also available in the following BLM Manuals, Handbooks, and Report:

Forest Service (USFS)

The Forest Service (USFS) also issues permits authorizing both project-related identification and mitigation efforts in addition to research related investigations based on the provisions of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) (43 USC 1701 1782) and the Antiquities Act of 1906.

Regulations promulgated under 36 CFR 261 state that each Regional Forester has jurisdiction over "Protection of objects or places of historical, archaeological, geological or paleontological interest" (36 CFR 261.70(a)(5)), and that the following are prohibited: "Excavating, damaging, or removing any vertebrate fossil or removing any paleontological resource for commercial purposes without a special use permit" (36 CFR 261.9 (g)).

Forest Service policy makes the salvage of known paleontological resources a standard condition of their Special Use Permits. Treatment standards are specific to each forest and rely heavily upon implementation of a mitigation plan developed under the auspices of professional paleontologists at regional museums and universities. Some permits may require approval from the local Ranger District, the Forest Supervisor's Office, and perhaps even the Regional Forester, so early coordination and advance scheduling are imperative. Additionally, some portions of lands within the state boundary of California are administered by National Forest units located in adjacent states. Specifically, the Rogue River and Siskiyou National Forests (headquartered in Oregon) and the Toiyabe National Forest (headquartered in Nevada), all administer lands located California. The Forest Service provides links to each National Forest in California, and contact information for the CaliforniaNevada and Oregon based forest.

National Park Service (NPS)

As delegated by the Department of the Interior, each National Park has its own permit process for the collection of natural resources, with permits issued under the provisions of the Antiquities Act of 1906. On the Internet, the NPS website on paleontological resource management, information for individual parks, and the contact information for the Pacific West Regional office can be found.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)

Like other federal land managing agencies, the USACE issues permits for paleontological investigations and mitigation on lands under their jurisdiction. The USACE has three District offices located in California including the Sacramento, San Francisco, and Los Angeles Districts. Note that each District has virtually total autonomy, so requirements between Districts can vary. Collectively these three offices constitute the USACE's South Pacific Division whose headquarters are also located in San Francisco. The Division's website provides contact links for each of the three Districts. Permits are generally issues by the District's Construction-Operations Division.

State Agencies

California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR)

The California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) does not have, as of this writing, uniform, department-wide, treatment standards for paleontology; treatment varies by park unit. Development projects that involve the taking of state parks property are treated within the provisions of CEQA. DPR's Natural Heritage Section of the Resource Protection Division, in Sacramento provides paleontological guidance to individual park units.

California Coastal Commission (CCC)

The California Coastal Commission (CCC) issues permits for all development within the CCC's jurisdiction (generally within one mile of the mean high tide line). The CCC relies on compliance with CEQA to ensure adherence to the provisions of Section 30244 of the California Coastal Act which require mitigation when paleontological resources are identified. It is worth noting, however, the CCC permits generally post-date a project's environmental document/determination and may not necessarily be consistent with requirements previously issued other regulatory agencies.

Local Agencies

As noted in the "Laws and Regulations" section, above, although the Department is not required to comply with local laws and ordinances, it will endeavor to do so to the extent possible. Various cities and counties have passed ordinances and resolutions related to paleontological resources within their jurisdictions. Project environmental staff should coordinate with local entities to update their knowledge of local requirements and permits.

Interagency Coordination Considerations

In addition to agency-specific coordination peculiarities noted in the preceding sections, there are a few other general "cautions" that deserve note. Individually and collectively these reemphasize the need for project environmental staff to coordinate early with other agencies.

  • A typical highway project will require either combined NEPA/CEQA documentation or CEQA-only documentation. CEQA-only documents are most commonly used for Caltrans projects funded with only state (no federal) funds and for projects being lead by Locals. From a practical perspective, CEQA only requires that paleontological specimens with scientific importance be recovered and placed in a repository. For example common specimens representing species that are well studied and whose morphology, taxonomy, ontogeny, phylogeny, and occurrence are well understood do not need to be mitigated. In fact repositories would not be willing to accept these specimens because they simply do not have the room to store specimens that do not add to the paleontological knowledge base. Under NEPA, however, federal agencies only take significant paleontological sites into account. The definition of significant may vary between one agency's various offices as well as between the offices of different agencies.
  • It is strongly recommended that coordination with land managing agencies be initiated as a part of preparing Preliminary Environmental Analysis Report (PEAR)/Preliminary Environmental Study (PES) documents for input into Project Initiation Documents (PIDs) so that scope and schedule estimates incorporate their requirements and recommendations.
  • Permits frequently take longer and require more effort than is commonly anticipated.
  • At present, Caltrans has limited paleontological staff resources. Consequently, completing paleontological identification, assessment, and mitigation efforts may require combinations of in-house staff and contracted expertise.

Other Considerations

Caltrans Projects

Confidentiality of Resource Location Information

Although no specific statutes prohibit the release of site-specific paleontological information, in keeping with Caltrans policy of being good stewards of resources located on lands under its jurisdiction, and to keep environmental commitments made as a part of project delivery, paleontological data should be released on a need to know basis to qualified and responsible individuals. The locations of fossiliferous formations should be only generally depicted on project maps.

Resource Ownership and Property Access

Prior to construction, ownership generally rests with private owners or land managing agencies. In the case of the former, permission to conduct non-disturbing investigations should be handled in a manner consistent with the approach used by Caltrans for other non-disturbing project investigations. In the case of lands administered by other federal and state agency, a permit of some sort is generally required.

If paleontological specimens are collected from private property, written permission is required from the landowner. Although all fossils collected during mitigation remain the property of the landowner, the collection should be properly curated at an approved facility (preferably local to the project location) and preserved for future researchers. Every effort should be taken to persuade the landowner to donate the materials to a museum for curation because of the value of keeping collections together for future scientific study.

In the instance of mitigation during the construction phase of a state transportation project, Caltrans typically is the fee-simple landowner. In these cases, Caltrans must identify or approve the use of an appropriate repository for the paleontological collection and ensure that collected materials are properly prepared and delivered to the repository. In the case of easements across federally administered lands, the Federal land-managing agency generally retains ownership of the paleontological specimens. It should be noted that processing generally requires work after Construction Contract Acceptance, so it will be necessary to work with the Project Manager to ensure that an appropriate EA and other funding authorities remain active.

Locally Sponsored Projects

Confidentiality of Resource Location Information

Local project sponsors must necessarily develop their own policies relative to the confidentiality of location information, bearing in mind any applicable county or city ordinances, as well as the involvement of other federal or state agencies, in the project approval process.

Resource Ownership and Property Access

Local project sponsors must necessarily develop their own policies relative to these issues, bearing in mind any applicable state, county or city ordinances, as well as the involvement of other federal or state agencies, in the project approval process.


The "normal" approach to project-related paleontological resource efforts involves three steps that include identification, evaluation, and, as necessary, mitigation. These three steps generally entail preparation of 5 separate documents that are:

  • A Paleontological Identification Report (PIR)
  • A Paleontological Evaluation Report (PER)
  • A Paleontological Mitigation Plan (PMP)
  • A Paleontological Mitigation Report (PMR)
  • A Paleontological Stewardship Summary (PSS)

Each of these documents, along with associated requirements and suggested content/format issues, will be addressed in turn. In practice, however, several of these reports may be combined. For example, the Paleontological Identification and Paleontological Evaluation Reports are frequently a combined product prepared during early scoping. Similarly, the Paleontological Mitigation Plan frequently becomes a part of either the Paleontological Evaluation Report or is ultimately incorporated in the Paleontological Mitigation Report.

Paleontological Identification Report (PIR)

Initial screening for, or identification of, paleontological resources for Caltrans projects is best accomplished during preparation of the Preliminary Environmental Analysis Report (PEAR) which, in turn, provides input to Project Initiation Documents ([PIDs]; e.g., Project Study Reports [PSRs] and Project Scope Summary Reports [PSSRs]). The level and intensity of the screening and/or identification efforts and resulting documentation) for a particular project should be commensurate with such considerations as: 1) the type of project (e.g., type and extent of excavation); and 2) the geologic setting (e.g., proximity of fossiliferous strata). For local projects it is strongly recommended that this level of investigation be completed early in the project scoping and conceptual alignment phase of the project (e.g., as a part of preparing the Preliminary Environmental Study [PES]) so that any necessary evaluation and/or mitigation efforts can be incorporated into the project scope and schedule.

Scoping during the initial project development process should include coordination with appropriate agencies and the identification of potentially significant environmental issues. Significant paleontological resources may be identified at this time by concerned agencies and citizens based upon existing information. Both Caltrans and local agency in-house staff may know of the existence of paleontological resources based upon past projects or general experience. As of this writing, certain Caltrans Districts (e.g., Central Region and District 11) have access to paleontology sensitivity maps that have been provided by local agencies or produced by consultants for Caltrans. Where available, these resources should be used. Similarly, land managing agencies frequently have staff that are well aware of the resources located on lands under their jurisdiction.

Where none of these data sources exists, local museums or universities can be contacted to obtain basic information. In the event that more detailed data is required, it will likely be necessary to contract with the institution/agency or a private consultant. Caltrans has district-specific and/or project specific contracts and interagency agreements that offer vehicles for Caltrans to accomplish these studies. Local project sponsors necessarily need to develop and use their own procurement process.

In order to complete resource identification efforts, the project environmental staff will, at a minimum, need:

  • Mapping of sufficient detail to correlate the potential project footprint with detailed geologic maps and paleontological databases.
  • Definitive determination as to whether or not the project will involve construction excavation.

The required level of detail may vary from project to project and will be determined by the complexity of the project and the complexity of the geology and stratigraphy of the project area. Planning, Engineering, and Environmental staff must coordinate to determine project-specific needs. Mapping of the detail appropriate to specific locales, and a determination as to excavation, are essential data that must be supplied to the environmental staff in order to initiate PID (early scoping) phase efforts.

Based on the above, staff can then assess whether there are known or reasonably anticipated paleontological resources within the project area. If so, it must further be determined whether or not project excavation may impact the resource. The presence of known or reasonably anticipated resources that may be impacted by the project indicates that a Paleontological Evaluation Report (PER) will be needed as a part of subsequently preparing the project's environmental document. These conclusions should also included in the PEAR

There are no formal format requirements documenting identification in the Paleontological Identification Report (PIR). Additionally, the level of documentation may vary owing to specific project consideration. However, the report (potentially including a combination of consultant prepared and in-house documentation) may need to include any or all of the following:

  • Summarize the proposed project.
  • Summarize the assumed project footprint and excavation parameters.
  • Identify the data sources consulted.
  • Document the results of a windshield survey.
  • Summarize recommendations, constraints, and coordination requirements.
  • Identify the recommended course of action, including identification of specific formations and fossils that may be encountered.
  • Include time estimates for evaluation (and mitigation, if possible) work. For Caltrans projects these estimates should be broken down by Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) code.
  • Include consultant hours for studies.
  • Identify the persons preparing the PIR and their qualifications.
  • For full PSRs the report should also include, if possible, a monitoring and/or mitigation plan and cost estimate(s) including development, award, and oversight time/cost factors.

Additionally, the title page of the report must contain the following Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) statement:

"For individuals with sensory disabilities this document is available in alternate formats. Please call or write to (Note the Caltrans point of contact by name, address, phone number, and CA Relay Service TTY number 1-800-735-2929)."

Identification of paleontological resources generally triggers assessment as to whether or not avoidance is possible.

Caltrans PIR documents are generally prepared by the District/Region Paleontology Coordinator, a consultant, or another responsible party as assigned by the appropriate Environmental Branch Chief.

Paleontological Evaluation Report (PER)

Once it has been determined that a paleontological resource will be impacted by a project, it is necessary to undertake an assessment to determine: 1) Caltrans' legal responsibilities; 2) the necessity for involving other agencies and stakeholders; 3) whether the resource can be avoided (regardless of its potential significance); and 4) the significance of the resource. In most instances, completion of this effort will require the services of a professional meeting the experience/education requirements of a Principal Paleontologist (see Preparer Qualification section of this chapter) in order to determine the significance of the paleontological resource.

Paleontological evaluations are generally completed as a part of preparing the draft environmental document/determination and draft project report. In order to complete these evaluations, project footprint and mapping information must be of sufficient detail so as to allow assessment of the potential horizontal and vertical extent of impacts. Before proceeding to the specifics of these reports, however, a few prefacing topics require discussion.

Avoidance and Environmentally Sensitive Areas

Avoidance should be considered as the first management strategy owing to the Department's environmental stewardship responsibilities and the additional time and funding costs generally entailed by either minimization or mitigation of impacts. Similarly, as noted previously, it must also be borne in mind that CEQA requires treatment of all paleontological resources, not just those determined significant as long as they have scientific importance. For projects that include coordination with other agencies, avoidance can expedite the issuance of any permits or permissions that may be required to achieve project environmental compliance.

Avoidance of project impacts can be achieved by one of several means. First of all, there is the potential to redesign a project so that paleontological resources are completely outside the project's impact area (e.g., a different alignment that misses the resource or a construction approach that does not entail construction excavation that would impact fossiliferous strata). A related strategy involves creating Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs) around paleontological locales. ESAs are a part of the Department's standard toolkit to protect resources within or immediately adjacent to a project while concurrently delivering the project. Generally, these involve some combination of exclusionary fencing or monitoring as an alternative to excavation. In the event that the special measures prove ineffective for one reason or another, more traditional mitigation is necessarily called for. This fallback will generally impact delivery schedules and/or total project costs. If viable and properly implemented, however, ESAs can reduce costs and time associated with more extensive traditional mitigation approaches (see Standard Environmental Reference).

Definitions of Significance and Sensitivity

If a paleontological resource cannot be avoided, then it is necessary to determine its significance or scientific importance before any mitigation measures are proposed. This may be stated for a particular fossil species, fossil assemblage, or for a rock unit as a whole. There are two generally recognized types of paleontological significance:

  • National - As stated in the preceding "Laws and Regulations" section of this chapter, a National Natural Landmark eligible paleontological resource is an area of national significance (as defined under 36 CFR 62) that contains an outstanding example of fossil evidence of the development of life on earth. This is the only codified definition of paleontological significance.
  • Scientific - Definitions of a scientifically significant paleontological resource can vary by jurisdictional agency and paleontological practitioner

Generally, 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 (Reynolds 1990:6). Particularly important are fossils found in situ (undisturbed) in primary context (e.g., fossils that have not been subjected to disturbance subsequent to their burial and fossilization). As such, they aid in stratigraphic correlation, particularly those offering data for the interpretation of tectonic events, geomorphological evolution, paleoclimatology, the relationships between aquatic and terrestrial species, and evolution in general. Discovery of in situ fossil bearing deposits is rare for many species, especially vertebrates. Terrestrial vertebrate fossils are often assigned greater significance than other fossils because they are rarer than other types of fossils. This is primarily due to the fact that the best conditions for fossil preservation include little or no disturbance after death and quick burial in oxygen depleted, fine-grained, sediments. While these conditions often exist in marine settings, they are relatively rare in terrestrial settings (e.g., as a result of pyroclastic flows and flashflood events). This has ramifications on the amount of scientific study needed to adequately characterize an individual species and therefore affects how relative sensitivities are assigned to formations and rock units.

Note that significance may also be stated for a particular rock unit, predicated on the research potential of fossils suspected to occur in that unit. Such significance is often stated as "sensitivity" or "potential." In most cases decisions about how to manage paleontological resources must be based on this potential because the actual situation can not be known until construction excavation for the project is underway. Caltrans uses the following tripartite scale.

  • High Potential - Rock units which, based on previous studies, contain or are likely to contain significant vertebrate, significant invertebrate, or significant plant fossils. These units include, but are not limited to, sedimentary formations that contain significant nonrenewable paleontological resources anywhere within their geographical extent, and sedimentary rock units temporally or lithologically suitable for the preservation of fossils. These units may also include some volcanic and low-grade metamorphic rock units. Fossiliferous deposits with very limited geographic extent or an uncommon origin (e.g., tar pits and caves) are given special consideration and ranked as highly sensitive. High sensitivity includes the potential for containing: 1) abundant vertebrate fossils; 2) a few significant fossils (large or small vertebrate, invertebrate, or plant fossils) that may provide new and significant taxonomic, phylogenetic, ecologic, and/or stratigraphic data; 3) areas that may contain datable organic remains older than Recent, including Neotoma (sp.) middens; or 4) areas that may contain unique new vertebrate deposits, traces, and/or trackways. Areas with a high potential for containing significant paleontological resources require monitoring and mitigation.
  • Low Potential - This category includes sedimentary rock units that: 1) are potentially fossiliferous, but have not yielded significant fossils in the past; 2) have not yet yielded fossils, but possess a potential for containing fossil remains; or 3) contain common and/or widespread invertebrate fossils if the taxonomy, phylogeny, and ecology of the species contained in the rock are well understood. Sedimentary rocks expected to contain vertebrate fossils are not placed in this category because vertebrates are generally rare and found in more localized stratum. Rock units designated as low potential generally do not require monitoring and mitigation. However, as excavation for construction gets underway it is possible that new and unanticipated paleontological resources might be encountered. If this occurs, a Construction Change Order (CCO) must be prepared in order to have a qualified Principal Paleontologist evaluate the resource. If the resource is determined to be significant, monitoring and mitigation is required.
  • No Potential - Rock units of intrusive igneous origin, most extrusive igneous rocks, and moderately to highly metamorphosed rocks are classified as having no potential for containing significant paleontological resources. For projects encountering only these types of rock units, paleontological resources can generally be eliminated as a concern when the PEAR is prepared and no further action taken.

BLM has its own system for classifying areas according to their potential to contain vertebrate fossils, or noteworthy occurrences of invertebrate or plant fossils. This must be taken into account when working on lands under the jurisdiction of the BLM. Similarly, other federal and state Agencies may have their own standards and requirements. At the local governmental levels similar variations exist in assessing significance and sensitivity based on investigator preference and/or regional approaches to the issues. For example, a scale from 0 to 7 (very low, low, moderate, moderate high, high, very high, highest) was used to grade rock units for an EIS prepared for an Orange County project. In all cases, unless mutually agreed otherwise, the requirements of federal, state, and local land managing agencies prevail on lands they administer. In the event that multiple agencies with varied requirements are involved (e.g., a linear project that involves multiple authorities) it may be advisable to negotiate a common approach.

Given the range of criteria that may be used, significance assessments should necessarily be based on the recommendations of a professional Principal Paleontologist with expertise in the region under study and the resources found in that region. An evaluation of a particular rock unit's significance rests on the known importance of specific fossils. Often this significance is reflected as a sensitivity ranking relative to other rock units in the same region. Regardless of the format used by a paleontologist to rank formations, the importance of any rock unit must be explicitly stated in terms of specific fossils known or suspected to be present (and if the latter, why such fossils are suspected), and why these fossils are of paleontological importance. Some land-managing agencies may require the use of specific guidelines to assess significance whereas others may defer to the expertise of local paleontologists and provide little guidance. Because each situation may differ, it is important that there is a clear understanding between project staff (Caltrans or local), consultants, and personnel from other agencies as to exactly what criteria will be used to assess the significance of rock units affected by a particular project.

As a practical matter, no consideration is generally afforded paleontological sites for which scientific importance cannot be demonstrated. If a paleontological resource assessment results in a determination that the site is insignificant or of low sensitivity, this conclusion should be documented in a Paleontological Evaluation Report (PER) and in the project's environmental document in order to demonstrate compliance with applicable statutory requirements.

If a paleontological resource is determined to be significant, of high sensitivity, or of scientific importance, and the project impacts it, a mitigation program must be developed and implemented. Mitigation can be initiated prior to, and/or during, construction. The latter is more common for Caltrans projects. It should be pointed out, however, that mitigating during construction poses a greater risk of construction delays. Mitigation is an eligible federal project cost, in accordance with 23 USC 305, only if acceptable significance documentation is submitted. Thus, coordination between Caltrans, FHWA, and all jurisdictional agencies is critical to formally establishing the significance of a resource.

Paleontological Mitigation Plan (PMP)

This section of this chapter provides general guidance for developing, and subsequently implementing, paleontological mitigation efforts including minimum proposal requirements, general fieldwork and laboratory methods, and curation considerations. The reporting requirements for an implemented plan are addressed in the subsequent section of this chapter.

The mitigation plan will generally be prepared concurrent with preparation of the project's environmental document/determination so that responsible agency and stakeholder concerns can be incorporated into the plan.

The plan should be prepared by or under the supervision of a qualified Principal Paleontologist (see Preparer Qualifications) and submitted for review sufficiently in advance of an anticipated start work date so that all involved agencies have time to comment, the lead agency has time to adjust the plan to accommodate such input, and for the plan to be resubmitted for all necessary approvals. In the case of Caltrans projects, coordination with other agencies should be accomplished through Caltrans staff rather than consultants directly approaching land managing/regulatory agencies. It is imperative that all agencies with jurisdiction over a paleontological site are in agreement as to the level of effort in the mitigation plan, including agreement on the applicability of pertinent laws, regulations, and permit requirements. When properly designed, the Paleontological Mitigation Plan serves as a basis for obtaining any necessary permits from other agencies

At a minimum, a Paleontological Mitigation Plan (PMP) should include (see PMP format subsection for further details):

  • The contract/task order requirements.
  • General fieldwork and laboratory methods proposed.
  • Curation requirements.
  • Report format and content.
  • Report distribution.
  • Proposed staff and their qualifications.

Plan implementation must be completed under the direction of a qualified Principal Paleontologist.

Mitigation measures adequate for the recovery of a sample of significant fossils may be applied to rock units determined by a qualified paleontologist as containing significant paleontological resources, if those rock units cannot be avoided by project planning. Mitigation measures vary, but may include:

  • Recovering a sample of fossiliferous material prior to construction; and/or
  • Monitoring construction and halting work to recover important fossils; and
  • Cleaning, identification, and cataloging of fossil specimens collected for curation and research purposes.

For Caltrans projects, regardless of whether mitigation takes place prior to or during construction, the appropriate WBS coding should be used to track the activities. Similarly, the appropriate WBS codes should be used to track technical assistance required during construction and functional support to the Resident Engineer (RE) in preparing Contract Change Orders for mitigation.

PMP Format

The plan should include the following sections:

  • Title Page - The title page should identify the type of investigation proposed, Caltrans district, county, route, postmile (with kilopost in parentheses, if appropriate) limits, charge unit, EA, and contract number. The name and signature of the Principal Paleontologist should appear above the consulting organization's name and address. The agency representative to whom the report was submitted should be identified by name, title, Caltrans district office, and address. The date should be at the bottom of the cover sheet. Permit numbers should be provided if applicable.

    Additionally, reports must contain the following Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) statement:

    "For individuals with sensory disabilities this document is available in alternate formats. Please call or write to (Note the Caltrans point of contact by name, address, phone number, and CA Relay Service TTY number 1-800-735-2929)."

  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction - This should include a brief discussion of the goals of the proposed study, a discussion of the construction project effects, and why mitigation is needed (e.g., compliance with CEQA).
  • Background - Pertinent information should be provided in order to demonstrate familiarity with the project area, the type of fossils and rock units under study, and both the published and unpublished literature for the area.
  • Description of the Resource - This should include a description of the rock unit(s), boundaries of the fossiliferous formation(s), and locations of exposures in the vicinity of the project area and in the area of direct impact
  • Proposed Research - This section should present a clear, concise, description of why the paleontological resource is significant or has scientific importance and how the study is expected to address current gaps in the paleontological data.
  • Scope of Work - This section should detail the work plan to mitigate project effects, including all fieldwork and laboratory efforts. The scope states how any monitoring will be conducted, safety measures that will be implemented, the volume of any bulk samples to be taken and their locations (if known), preparation procedures for recovered specimens and reporting format and content. Since not all fossils need to be collected, the criteria for the discard of specific fossil specimens should be made explicit. The number of field and lab crew needed and estimated duration of their participation in the study should be provided, along with a brief statement of the qualifications (e.g., educational background and paleontological experience) of all personnel. The scope of work should logically follow the discussion of proposed research (above) and also include the rationale for the proposed sample size and methods and support a conclusion that the effort will provide adequate material to mitigate the projects effects.
  • Usually the salvage of significant fossils occurs during construction, with fossils being removed as they are uncovered. However, in some cases it may be advantageous to conduct fieldwork prior to construction, thus minimizing the potential for construction delays. Collection plans could include surface collection and quarry excavation components.
  • Construction monitoring programs should include qualified paleontological monitors, equipped with tools and supplies to allow for the rapid removal of specimens, so that delays to construction can be avoided. If excavation is occurring in multiple locations simultaneously, adequate numbers of fully equipped monitors should be present to manage all locations. Procedures allowing the monitors to either directly or indirectly temporarily divert equipment to inspect fossil finds need to be worked out beforehand with the Resident Engineer (RE).
  • Excavation methods vary with the type of fossil species and the nature of the matrix. Large specimen recovery (e.g., large vertebrates such as mammals and some large invertebrates) may require exposure in situ and plaster jacketing prior to removal. Medium and small specimen recovery (e.g., small mammals, most invertebrates, and plants) are usually quarried and can be separated from their matrix away from the excavation site. Similarly, matrix may be wet or dry screened. When wet screening, the matrix may be soaked in water with detergent and screened to retain various size fractions for sorting, identification, and cataloging. In some cases, acids are used to separate the specimens from the matrix. Recovered specimens should be prepared to a point of identification (not exhibition) and stabilized for preservation in conformance with individual repository requirements. All recovered specimens should be cataloged using the format of the proposed curation facility
  • Not all located fossils need to be recovered. Criteria for discard of specific fossil specimens should be made explicit in the proposal.
  • Prior to paleontological excavations or monitoring within the project limits, the District Safety Officer must be informed of the project and all consultant or in-house personnel must obey any safety measures imposed. Additionally, all personnel must complete a construction safety orientation. A procedure for interfacing paleontological and construction personnel will need to be developed in consultation with the Resident Engineer (RE).
  • Decision Thresholds - This section should address how and when fieldwork will achieve the study goals, allowing fieldwork to cease. Specific decision criteria (e.g., less than "x" specimens per cubic meter) should be stated. There should also be mention of any circumstances in which additional effort might be needed to achieve study goals, if the proposed scope of work proves unsuccessful.
  • Schedule - The schedule for completing the proposed work may appear as text or in graphic form (e.g., timeline), and include a start date, duration of fieldwork and laboratory processing, and time for report preparation. NOTE: The schedule for completing paleontological monitoring and mitigation must be coordinated with the project delivery and construction schedules since work will frequently require efforts after Construction Contract Acceptance, thus necessitating that an appropriate EA and other funding mechanisms remain active.
  • Justification of Cost Estimate - This section should provide narrative support for the cost estimate (see below), including the basis for person-hours estimates, clarification of overhead percentages, and any other costs.
  • Cost Estimate - Presented as an appendix, this documentation should present a tabular summary of costs for the proposed effort and include all proposed numbers and levels of personnel, time, and costs.
  • Bibliography - The bibliography should include only those references cited in the plan.
  • Curation - The curation facility should be identified and a draft curation agreement included. Because the cost of curation is usually dictated by volume, all excess matrix should, to the greatest extent possible, be removed from the fossil during analysis or pre-curation preparation. A curation agreement with an approved facility must be in place prior to initiating any paleontological monitoring or mitigation activities.
  • Permits - This section should identify any permits that may be needed to conduct the work, the nature of the relationship between the permit and the specific work action, and the issuing agencies for each permit. Summarize the work elements needed to obtain each permit and include a permit acquisition schedule.
  • Appendices - Resumes of the Principal Paleontologist, monitors, and other key personnel should be included in an appendix (separate from the budget appendix).

The number of report copies needed for distribution will vary by project. The approved Paleontological Mitigation Plan should incorporate the desires of involved/interested federal, state, and local entities (including the curation facility) as well as copies for the professional community.

Paleontological Mitigation Report (PMR)

A final report documenting implementation of the approved Paleontological Mitigation Plan must be prepared by, or under the direction of, the Principal Paleontologist and include, as a minimum, the sections indicated below. Listed details are specific to Caltrans, although locals must necessarily adjust them to their own situations. However, for local projects that entail review, it is strongly recommended that the resulting product parallel Caltrans prepared reports.

  • Cover Letter - The letter should summarize the purpose of the study and refer to the appropriate district, county, route, postmile (kilopost in parentheses, if appropriate) limits, charge unit, and Expenditure Authorization (EA). The letter should also indicate the project contract number, identify the project by name, type of investigation and location (e.g., Paleontological Mitigation of the Hangtown Formation, near Westville, Orange County, California), and briefly describe the construction project (e.g., shoulder-widening, construct passing lane). Pertinent laws and regulations under which the document was prepared should be identified. The action being requested should also be indicated (e.g., review, final submittal).
  • Title Page - The title page should identify the type of investigation, Caltrans district, county, route, postmile (with kilopost in parentheses, if appropriate) limits, charge unit, EA, and contract number. The name and signature of the Principal Paleontologist should appear above the consulting organization's name and address. The person, to whom the report is submitted should be identified by name, title, Caltrans district office, name, and address. The date should be at the bottom of the cover sheet. Permit numbers should be provided if applicable.

    Additionally, reports must contain the following Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) statement:

    "For individuals with sensory disabilities this document is available in alternate formats. Please call or write to (Note the Caltrans point of contact by name, address, phone number, and CA Relay Service TTY number 1-800-735-2929)."

  • Summary of Findings - This section should contain all information necessary for the casual reader to understand the intent, methods, and results of the study. The purpose and scope of the paleontological investigation, results, dates of fieldwork, and disposition of the collection should be included.
  • Table of Contents - The table of contents should list the major report sections, subheadings, appendices, maps, figures, tables, and exhibits, with appropriate pagination.
  • Acknowledgements - Information should be provided as appropriate.
  • Introduction - The introduction should discuss the: 1) scope of the construction project; 2) nature and purpose of the paleontological investigation; 3) legal obligations that necessitated the mitigation effort; 4) dates and location(s) of fieldwork relative to the proposed project and surrounding cultural features (e.g., towns, roads); 5) names of staff along with the qualifications and educational background of key personnel; 6) permits and permissions obtained, if any; and 7) accession number(s) of the collection(s) and the name of the curation facility. Other information may be included as necessary to introduce the report.
  • Resource Context - The paleontological site should be placed in its regional geological context. There should be a brief description of the regional geologic history and identification of the fossiliferous formations under study, their origin, characteristics (e.g., stratigraphy, geomorphology), distribution, and index fossils. The rationale that led to the determination that the locale possesses scientific significance or importance should be provided. Any previous paleontological investigations that have taken place in the vicinity should also be summarized.
  • Field and Laboratory Methods - The methods and techniques used in the field and laboratory should be described in detail.
  • Results - The results of the study should be summarized. The number and location of specific resource localities examined should be stated. Lists of recovered fossil flora and fauna should be provided by locality, name (using both common names and Latin nomenclature), and formation. Appropriate maps, graphics, and illustrations should be included.
  • Bibliography - Only those references cited within the body of the report should be included in the bibliography.
  • Geological cross-sections depicting fossil localities and excavated units.
  • Maps - A minimum of three maps should be included in the report: 1) a Project Location Map; 2) a Project Vicinity Map; and 3) a Project Map. All maps should display the county, route, project postmile (with kilopost in parentheses, if appropriate) limits, EA and unit charge numbers, project contract number, a north arrow, and scale. The Project Location Map should be a district highway map, or approved alternate, illustrating the location of the proposed project on a regional scale. Suitable standardized base maps on file at the district can be provided to the paleontologist for their use. The Project Vicinity Map should be a USGS topographic base map, or approved alternate, that depicts the location of the project and all fossil resource localities in relation to the surrounding topography. The Project Map should be of sufficient scale (e.g., 1:1200, 1:2400) to illustrate the exact location of all fossil localities and excavation units (e.g., quarry locations). Aerial photographs may be used as a base map.
  • Illustrations - Tables, plates, figures, and specimen sketches and/or photographs should be used as appropriate and include appropriate labeling, legends, and scale information. Photographs should include general views of each locality with appropriate labeling so that they stand independent of the text presentation.
  • Appendices - The collection catalog must be attached as an appendix. Additional appendices should include, as a minimum, and acronym list and a glossary of paleontological terms.
  • Curation - Although all fossils collected remain the property of the landowner, the collection must be properly curated at an approved facility (preferably local to the project location) and preserved for future researchers. When mitigation occurs during the construction phase of project, Caltrans typically is the fee-simple land owner, except in the case of easements across federally administered lands. In this latter instance, the Federal land-managing agency generally retains ownership. A complete set of field notes, geologic maps, stratigraphic sections, and a copy of the final report should be curated with the fossils.

Paleontological Stewardship Summary (PSS)

After the completion of paleontological mitigation, environmental staff should supply to both Maintenance and Operations staff (including the Encroachment Permits Office) a list of any long term commitments - updated Environmental Commitments Record (ECR) and/or Certificate of Environmental Compliance (CEC) may generally serve this purpose. This summary should include the location of the resources (including county, route, postmile [kilopost in parentheses, if appropriate] limits and side of highway), a description of the resource, the types of use restrictions, and the duration of those restrictions. District environmental staff may also wish to add this information to existing databases.

Preparer Qualifications

Principal Paleontologist

As detailed in the "Reports" section of this chapter, a Principal Paleontologist's knowledge, skills, and abilities may be required in the course of preparing Paleontological Identification Reports, but are definitely necessary for the preparation of Paleontological Evaluation Reports, Paleontological Mitigation Plans, and Paleontological Mitigation Reports.

Unlike several other disciplines, neither the federal nor California state governments have mandated educational and/or experience requirements for paleontologists. The following suggested guidelines are principally derived from a combination of professional society, federal, state, and local agency guidance.

A qualified Principal Paleontologist is an individual with:

  • A graduate degree in paleontology, geology, or related field, with demonstrated experience in the vertebrate, invertebrate, or botanical paleontology of California or related topical or geographic areas; and
  • At least one year full time professional experience, or equivalent specialized training in paleontological research (i.e., the identification of fossil deposits, application of paleontological field and laboratory procedures and techniques, and curation of fossil specimens), administration, or management; and
  • At least four months of supervised field and analytic experience in general North American paleontology; and
  • Demonstrated ability to carry research to completion.

An advanced degree is less important than demonstrated competence in fieldwork, reporting, and curation. References should be checked and examples of past work should be examined.

Paleontological Monitor

A qualified Paleontological Monitor is an individual who has demonstrated experience in the collection and salvage of fossil materials. An undergraduate degree in geology or paleontology is preferable, but is less important than documented experience performing paleontological monitoring and mitigation. A resume should be provided, along with examples of similar work undertaken successfully. The Paleontological Monitor must work under the direction of the Principal Paleontologist.

Caltrans District/Regional Paleontology Coordinator

A District/Regional Paleontology Coordinator is generally an individual with at least a Bachelor's degree in geology or paleontology with either coursework and/or work experience in paleontology. In the event that staff with this background are lacking, the district/region will first contact adjacent districts/regions or Headquarters Division of Environmental Analysis (DEA) for appropriate staff support. That failing, districts/regions may assign individuals with related knowledge that are able to coordinate paleontological work. In this latter instance, consultants must necessarily be relied upon to provide a wider scope of services.

A Paleontology Coordinator will generally: 1) prepare, or oversee the consultant preparation of, Paleontological Identification Reports; and 2) prepare, or oversee the consultant preparation of, Paleontological Evaluation Reports, Paleontological Mitigation Plans, and Paleontological Mitigation Reports, and all work associated therewith. Associated work includes on-site visits during the course of fieldwork as well as document/product quality assurance. The Paleontology Coordinator may directly oversee contract work, or in cases where a construction contractor has retained a paleontology subcontractor, provide technical assistance to the Resident Engineer (RE).

In the event that unanticipated paleontological resources are encountered during construction of a project, the Paleontology Coordinator will provide technical assistance and either direct or indirect (e.g., through the Environmental Construction Liaison) support to the RE in the preparation of any needed Contract Change Orders (CCOs) necessary to initiate mitigation.

Contract Administration

In general, contract or task order administration responsibilities are delegated to Associate or higher level Caltrans personnel. In some instances, however, lower rank personnel may need to be involved as an "Inspector", Assistant Contract Manager, or Assistant Task Order Manager owing to their skills, experience, and special project circumstances.

Progress reports and on-site review should be required as part of the paleontological consultant's contract or task order. The Principal Paleontologist should be required to submit periodic written progress reports that describe progress of work to date. Progress report format and schedule should be specified in the contract or task order. On-site monitoring of the fieldwork should be undertaken by the Contract or Task Order Manager. The appropriate State Contract Manager, State Paleontology Coordinator (the latter being listed in the previous "Further Reference" section), or HQ Environmental Coordinator can, respectively, provide additional support in drafting task orders and contracts.

Appropriate environmental staff should provide general technical review to ensure that all aspects of the study provided for by contract have been adequately carried out and documented. Report organization, language, and content should be examined in order to ensure that the document is presented in an intelligible manner. The report must have sufficient information and clarity of argument to persuade agency reviewers that the conclusions in the report are correct.

Timing of Studies with the Project Development and Delivery Processes

The "normal" approach to project-related paleontological resource efforts involves three steps that include identification, evaluation, and, as necessary, mitigation. These three steps entail production of 5 separate documents, with the Paleontological Mitigation Plan frequently being combined with either the Paleontological Evaluation Report or incorporated into the subsequent Paleontological Mitigation Report. Each of these documents is addressed in turn.

  • Paleontological Identification Report (PIR) - Identification of paleontological resources can occur at any time during the life of a project. However, it is best accomplished as a part of preparing a Preliminary Environmental Analysis Report (PEAR) or Preliminary Environmental Study (PES) type document that, in turn, provides input to Project Initiation Documents ([PIDs; e.g., Project Study Reports [PSRs] and Project Scope Summary Reports [PSSRs]) efforts. Preparation of the PIR may also include incorporation of the Paleontological Evaluation Report (PER), below.
  • Paleontological Evaluation Report (PER) - Paleontological evaluations are generally completed as a part of preparing the draft Environmental Document/Determination and draft Project Reports. The PER may also incorporate the PIR, as noted above being completed as a part of PID phase efforts. On occasion, the PER may also incorporate the Paleontological Mitigation Plan with or without the PIR.
  • Paleontological Mitigation Plan (PMP) - The mitigation plan will generally be prepared concurrent with preparation of the project's environmental document/determination so that responsible agency and stakeholder concerns can be incorporated into the plan. While the PMP may be a stand-alone document, it may also be combined with either the PER or subsequently incorporated into the Paleontological Mitigation Report. The mitigation requirements must be addressed in the PS&E package (and affirmed by the Environmental Certification for RTL) and included in the RE Pending File and Environmental Commitments Record.
  • Paleontological Mitigation Report (PMR) - The PMR may also incorporate the PMP. For Caltrans projects, regardless of whether mitigation takes place prior to, during construction and/or post-construction, the appropriate WBS coding should be used to track the activities. Similarly, the appropriate WBS codes should be used to track technical assistance required during construction and functional support to the Resident Engineer (RE) in preparing Contract Change Orders for mitigation.
  • Paleontological Stewardship Summary (PSS) - This report should be prepared as an adjunct to execution of the Certificate of Environmental Compliance.

Technical Report Processing and Approval

For Caltrans projects, the appropriate report(s) (summarized above) should be submitted to the district/region Paleontological Coordinator for review. In the event that a district/region does not have a Paleontological Coordinator with the technical credentials necessary to review the report(s), adjacent districts/regions or DEA should be contacted for assistance. That review may reveal the need for revision prior to approval. The District/Region Paleontology Coordinator may complete further inter-or intra-agency coordination or assist individual units in completing that coordination.

For local assistance projects, the project proponent, or their authorized agent, should submit the appropriate report(s) to the District Local Assistance Engineer (DLAE) who will then forward the report(s) to the District/Region Paleontological Coordinator for review. In the event that a district/region does not have a Paleontological Coordinator with the technical credentials necessary to review the report(s), adjacent districts/regions or DEA should be contacted for assistance. As is the case for Caltrans projects, that review may identify the need for revision prior to approval. Depending on individual circumstances, the District/Region Paleontology Coordinator may either complete, assist in the completion of, or delegate further inter- or intra-agency processing.

Permit Requirements

Permits from various federal, state, and local entities may be required. This is especially true for land managing agencies, as detailed in the Identification of Regulatory/Management Agencies section of this chapter. Different agencies, and even offices within an agency, may use different permitting authorities depending upon the specific circumstances of a situation. In some instances, permits can be issued by field units (e.g., Forest Service Ranger District or BLM Field Office) whereas in other cases permit issuance may require processing through higher administrative units (e.g., Forest Service Supervisor's or Regional Office; BLM District or State Office). Land managing agencies may also require, as a part of both permit issuance and associated project approvals, that their own paleontological assessment and mitigation standards be used. In the event that multiple agencies with varied requirements are involved (e.g., a linear project that involves multiple authorities) it may be necessary/advisable to negotiate a common approach.

All of the above considerations dictate that contact and coordination should be made with any permit issuing agency as early as possible in the project planning and delivery processes in order ensure that appropriate staff and schedule parameters are allocated. In the case of Caltrans projects, initial contact is best made as a part of PID phase efforts followed by more intensive on-going contact during the Project Approval and Environmental Document (PA&ED) phase.

Activities that may occur during the Project Design Phase

In most project delivery situations, the paleontological oriented efforts are most likely to be limited to pre-construction mitigation. However, in the event that there are post Project Approval and Environmental Document (PA&ED) changes in the project footprint, identification, evaluation and mitigation plan development could possibly occur.

Activities that may occur during the Construction Phase

Monitoring and mitigation related efforts are the paleontological activities most likely to occur during the construction phase of a project.

If paleontological resources are unexpectedly discovered during construction, evaluation, mitigation plan development, and actual mitigation efforts might all be required during construction. For this reason, Standard Provisions, Standard Special Provisions (SSPs), and/or Non-Standard Special Provisions (NSSPs), as appropriate, dealing with paleontology should be included the construction contracts. The District Paleontology Coordinator can provide direct and/or indirect (e.g., through the Environmental Construction Liaison) functional support to the Resident Engineer in order to assist in resolving the situation in an acceptable, expedient, manner.

Activities that may occur during Maintenance and Operations

Post-construction paleontological responsibilities may extend into on-going operations involving Maintenance and Encroachment Permits.

  • Maintenance - If paleontological resources are still located within the highway right-of-way or easement after completion of construction, the District Director can comply with PRC 5097.5 by writing a memo to the Deputy for Maintenance authorizing disturbance of paleontological resources for maintenance activities. The District Environmental staff should provide appropriate description and management constraints information for inclusion in the authorizing memo. In the event that previously unknown resources are unexpectedly discovered, Maintenance Staff should contact their respective Environmental Branches for assistance in developing a legal, effective, longer-term solution.
  • Encroachment Permits - If permit work will affect known paleontological resource located within Caltrans right of way, the Encroachment Permit should include authorization to disturb the resource, pursuant to PRC 5097.5. Compliance with applicable state and local environmental laws, including those pertaining to paleontological resources, is required prior to the issuance of an encroachment permit.

Additional References

Bates, Robert L., and Julia A. Jackson, Editors
1984 Dictionary of Geological Terms. Anchor Press, Doubleday, Garden City, New York. 3rd ed.

Bedrossian, Trinda L.
1973 Little Things in Life. California Geology 26(8): 175-186,191). California Division of Mines and Geology,

1975 Vertebrate Fossils and the History of Animals With Backbones. California Geology 28 (11): 243-260.
California Division of Mines and Geology, Sacramento.

Department of Parks and Recreation
1979 Departmental Directives on Resource Management for the California State Park System.

Marshall, Larry G.
1976 Paleontological Salvage and Federal Legislation. Journal of Paleontology. pp. 346-349.

Reynolds, Robert E.
1990 Paleontologic Mitigation Program, Cajon Pass Truck Escape Ramp, Cajon Summit,
San Bernardino County, California. Caltrans, District 8, San Bernardino.

Shaw, Christopher A., and James P. Quinn
1986 "Rancho La Brea": A Look at Coastal Southern California's Past. California Geology 39 (6): 123-133.
California Division of Mines and Geology, Sacramento.

Society of Vertebrate Paleontology
1990 Standard Measures for Assessment and Mitigation of Adverse Impacts to Nonrenewable
Paleontological Resources. Draft manuscript.

1990 Government Liaison Committee Report to the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. In,
Society of Vertebrate Paleontology News Bulletin, No. 148, February, pp. 8-13

1990 Fossil Vertebrates on Federal Lands: Report of the Government Liaison Committee on the Actions
Taken in Boulder, Colorado, December 1989. In, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology News Bulletin,
No. 148, February, pp.26-40.

Wallace, Steven M.
1989 Paleontology at CDOH. Paper presented at the TRB Committee - AF102, Environmental Analysis in
Transportation, July 12-14, Vail, Colorado. Colorado Department of Highways, Denver.

(Last content update: 8/11/14: JH)