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Power to the (paleo) people! (Long)



Hi Gang,

No, this is not a political rant but a testament to the power of the pen (and email) when it comes to getting politicians and their ilk to listen to reason. What follows next is a synopsis of events regarding the fate of the Muirkirk dinosaur site and of my research but first an apology: I want to apologize to everyone who has emailed me post SVP and have not gotten a reply. This is due to the events soon to be outlined, ongoing "other" issues, and now, a long stint of heavy overtime work at my other job. Consequently, I have been too burned out to even bother with email and most of the messages had to be deleted as I ran out of HD space!

Notwithstanding the events of 9.11 October has been frenetic and bitter sweet for me. Literally hours before I was due to fly to Bozeman for SVP, I had to put my best friend of almost 16 years, my dog, down for deteriorating health problems. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make and I very nearly canceled my plane tickets to spend as much time as I could with him before the inevitable. Alas, reason won out and I was bound for Bozeman 12 hour later. While I missed most of the talks and many of the DML members because I arrived late on day one, I still managed to network sufficiently and had a productive trip. Then things picked up as soon as I returned home. the Monday after SVP I was off from work and went to the quarry 9 after only verifying that I still had the _owners_ permission to continue just before leaving for SVP where I met up an individual from a local science center and a gaggle of teachers and educators who I led on a hastily arranged field trip of the si! ! ! te. Prior to their arrival, I recovered a crust but still nice theropod vert, probably a dorsal, and some similarly encrusted material that may be ribs. Other than these three finds, that was the sum total for several hours of prospecting!

Upon my return from the quarry, I received an email from Mr. Tom Stuckey from the Associated press regarding his interest in my work at the site and of my travails with the politicians. This was followed up quickly by a telephone interview and again by visit to my home and makeshift lab. Mr. Stuckey stayed a good while and we had a very good session. He seemed genuinely interested and impressed with my modest operation. This was on 9 October.  The very next day, I received a letter (almost 2 months after my first attempt to contact them) from the Md. Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) essentially stating, and agreeing with me, that in the interest preserving the site that they, the state, would bow out of the competition and defer to the Md. National Capital Parks and Planning Commission ('parks and planning for short') to develop the site. A modest but significant victory for it removes the biggest single threat to my work there. This victory was and is a direct result of ! ! ! ALL of you on the DML and other lists and persons who took the time to write and/or email the Governor and DNR!  As significant as this was however, all was not settled especially regarding the fate of my work there. This was about to change. Mr. Stuckey's article was never picked up by any of the major newspapers in the area but a small paper located in the home county where my quarry is located picked it up and published it in the 16 October issue of the Prince George's Journal Opinion Page, 6A. I did not learn of this until a week later from my contact at parks and planning! Thus at about this time, my contact there emailed to arrange with me to meet her on the site to mark off exactly how much land I (we) ideally wanted so that they can have a surveyor come in and get a real number to present to the owner. At this point I had not realized the full magnitude of the request but in my efforts to keep on good terms with them, especially in the event that they get full con! ! ! trol of the land, I acceded and showed them what to do. Well, it also worked out that the lady's boss at parks and planning _saw_ the article in the local paper and wanted to meet with me that very day! After we pegged off the site, we drove to her office and had a frank discussion with her boss on the article which up to then I still had not seen yet! Apparently, he took issue with "some of the things that I said" and wanted to clarify some things. In a nutshell he emphasized that we are now "in a prnershi" and have to trust each other and work together etc. Also, that the owner was likely to lease the property with the proviso that I be allowed to continue working there AND that access to the site will remain very strictly controlled! Without their admitting so, I had won! This is precisely what I had been arguing for all along. An added benefit is that I now have access to their GIS data, maps and other related goodies from their offices and we have discussed a possible map! ! ! ping project in the future. Furthermore, while there is absolutely no money in the budget for a "park paleontologist" should that change, I have been told that my name figures high on the list as the man! Don't hold your breath though as the politics of budget appropriations is a real joke here so my previously stated concerns with underfunding still hold. But at least we're on the same page! Also during this time and right up to last Friday 2 November, I have also been in direct contact with the property owners attorney, secretary and chief environmental officer all of whom reaffirmed orally and legally that my work is to continue!

The almost daily emails, personal visits and phone calls have finally settled the issue for the near future.  However, the issue is not permanently settled as the issue of the land itself remains to be resolved so I could be doing this all over again if the ownership changes or some unforeseen events take place!

But I did take time from this flurry of activity to witness the Ph.D. defense of Brenda Chinnery at JHU that Tom Holtz recently mentioned. She gave a very interesting talk of which the most salient point (to me) was that according to Dr. Chinnery, morphometric analyses of ceratopsians follows Haekel's Law.  This was a surprise as most talk of Haekel's Law that I have seen or read is dismissive of it. But I have always seen the merits of the Law even though Haekel's original work is rightly discredited. Since my expertise in this clade of theropod food is very limited, all I can say is read the book-or rather, read the dissertation! The most of those attending went out for seafood and beer at the Inner Harbor and an even smaller subset of us (some of the remaining JHU grad students of Dave Weishampel and Ken Rose) and myself left from there with Brenda to shoot pool. She kicked all our butts! Now that's an inverse relationship: Grad student (her) has lots of time to become! ! ! a pool shark and pool shark (me) gave up pool to go back to school! C'est la vie!

Such were the last 40 days or so of my (paleo) life. Thanks to you, the assembled mind, we achieved a significant victory for science and my research benefits in the short term. It was truly a cosmopolitan effort as many emails of support came from outside the US. And as I expected, they weighed heavily in illustrating the significance of the site and of the work currently being conducted.

Alas, this victory is also somewhat of a Pyrrhic one. With my time and mind almost completely consumed by the Arundel and for my continued efforts aimed towards grad school, I have neglected the more important things in life the result of which is that I now have a more important, personal, battle to wage. Many of you know that my personal life and fiscal situation were very strained over the last year or two. Well, these two things have taken a major turn for the worst, so much so that I now _have to_ go on "sabbatical" per se from paleo, from email, from everything to try and repair these issues or else!  The upside of this is starting around this time and lasting for the next 4 moths or so, I regularly drastically scale back my field work to concentrate on the lab part of my work. Only now, this latter aspect is now on hold as well. So this in no way affects next field season, my long term work or anything like that. I just need to drop out of circulation for a while t! ! ! o let things cool down here and to get caught up with domestic necessities.
So be forewarned that I will be suspending my email activities effective immediately as the traffic is way to high to keep up with under current conditions. I will still check for personal emails and I encourage those that chose to do so with the knowledge that it might be a while before I answer. I have to direct all my attention elsewhere lest I lose it as well. And, I am taking the advice that some dear friends at SVP suggested-that I needed to slow down for a while. too much was getting to me. They were right. I'm burned out and stressed out.  I have no regrets about it but I've paid a very high price for my science.

In closing, sorry to clutter the list with whiney rambling missive but I wanted to convey my profound thanks to vereyone who helped make this victory for paleontology possible as well as to assure that I will be back.

Thanks a million! See you in 02'!

Tom

Thomas R. Lipka
Geobiological  Research
2733 Kildaire Drive
Baltimore, Md. 21234 USA