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Last Updated: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 12:44 PM
Paleontological Resources Program
DEA's Paleontological Resources Program develops policy and provides technical and statutory information, guidance documents, and specifications to assist the Districts/Regions with the identification, evaluation, and mitigation of paleontological resources.
Paleontology is the study of life (exclusive of hominids) 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
- 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 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. The 2006 version can be accessed through the 2006 Standards "Amendments to the Standard Specs (S1-020)" link on the Office Engineer's Specification page. The 2010 version of Section 14-7 is found on this same page within the 2010 Standard Specifications.
- Non Standard Special Provisions
When the potential to disturb paleontological resources during excavation associated with a transportation project is identified through environmental review, non standard special provisions (NSSPs) must be developed, approved, and incorporated into the construction contract. For assistance with paleontological NSSPs, contact the applicable district Environmental Branch.
- Geologic Maps - The California Geologic Survey, in cooperation with the US Geological Survey, has made geologic maps of California available on line. These are small scale maps so they may not show enough detail for a project area, but they are an excellent place to start.
- Museums - 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
- 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
- San Bernardino County
- San Diego County Paleontological Resource Guidelines
- Solano County (see the EIR for references to paleontological resources)
- Federal Agencies
For more information please e-mail