Fossil Beds subject of nail-biter

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Women ready to throw themselves in front of a developer's bulldozer and a lawyer steamrolling through Congress in 1969. Histrionics, perhaps, but drama and a dash of chutzpah were the genesis of the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.

One of those women, Estella Leopold, is the co-author of “Saved in Time: The Fight to Establish Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Colorado,” a chilling account of what could have been.

“They were right on the verge of a real-estate development project here,” said Herb Meyer, the Monument's paleontologist who co-authored the book with Leopold, whose father, the late Aldo Leopold, wrote “A Sand Country Almanac.”

Leopold, who was with the United State Geologic Society at the time, filed suit against the federal government in an attempt to stop the construction. A judge denied the motion.

Yannacone, along with attorneys Dick Lamm and his brother, Tom Lamm, appealed the motion.

“Yannocone really carried the argument; he's the one who made all the colorful statements comparing the destruction of Florissant to wrapping fish in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” Meyer said.

To an argument by the developers that only the surface would be subdivided, Yannacone scoffed. “He snapped back and said `that would be like saying that scratching the paint off the Mona Lisa would do no harm because the canvas is still there',” Meyer said. “Yannacone had some wonderful lines like that.”

The book is filled with heroes and villains with the good guys emerging victorious.

In addition to narrating the history of the Monument, the book charts the path of environmental law. “Yannacone was the one who was instrumental in getting DDT banned and is the one who made up the term `environmental law,'” Meyer said.

“Florissant was one of the important cases where Yannacone went back to some basic principles of law, that people have the right, whether it's in the Constitution or not, to the protection of things that are for the public good,” Meyer said.

Leopold's part of the book deals with the pending crisis and the court proceedings while Meyer digs into the significance of fossils uncovered by Charlotte Hill in the late 18oos.

“The chapters I'm doing are about the deeper history of the paleontologists who worked here and some of the commercial enterprises here,” he said.

As well, Meyer looks at fossils in the broader context of today's issues, particularly, climate change. “What do fossils tell us about how climate changed in the past and what can that tell us about the future?” he said.

For the 40th anniversary celebration in 2009 of the Monument's designation as a national park, Leopold, Yannacone and the Lamm brothers, as well as descendants of the original landowners, including Toby Wells, relived those significant moments.

“Saved in Time,” released this month, was published by the University of New Mexico Press and is available at the visitors' center at the Monument.

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