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'LIFE IN THE PAST' DIGGING IN TO FIND FOSSILS AT LANDFILL.

Byline: Angie Valencia-Martinez Staff Writer

SIMI VALLEY - For nearly a decade, paleontologist Mark Roeder focused on finding the ``little guys'' buried for centuries beneath thousands of feet of rock at the Simi Valley Landfill.

There, he searched for the tiny bones and teeth of bats, frogs, lizards, rodents and snakes by screening buckets of clay samples a day.

Then, this year, he led the recovery of a fossilized mammoth in Moorpark and later the tusk and foot bones of a mastodon. The discovery led officials to propose calling the city ``The Home of the Moorpark Mammoth.''

``It was grunt work,'' said the 56-year-old scientist, recalling his days at the landfill - a potential treasure trove for paleontologists. ``I was looking for the smaller guys because the small ones tell you more about the area. They can't migrate. ... They get stuck.

``We found a lot of new animals not known anywhere else.''

Waste Management Inc., which owns and operates the landfill, contracts with Paleo Environmental Associates, the consulting firm in which Roeder is a partner, to protect the prehistoric creatures hidden below tons of earth.

From 1987 to 1996, the Costa Mesa resident recovered fossils at the landfill, including the jawbone of a new species now named after him. Occasionally, Roeder conducts work at the site but only when a new area is opened that requires significant excavation activity.

Should Waste Management proceed with plans to expand its landfill from 185 to 400 acres, representatives of the consulting firm are likely to be brought in on a more regular basis, said company spokesman Eric Rose.

Any expansion, however, would require an environmental impact report and ultimately approval from the Ventura County Board of Supervisors.

``Waste Management is committed to protecting America's working landscapes and preserving an important part of our historic past for visitors, neighbors and, most importantly future generations,'' Rose said. ``More than 20 years ago, Waste Management had the foresight to create a program to ensure the preservation of fossils for the benefit of scientist and that of future generations.

``We believe our partnership with outside experts and the Los Angeles County Museum represents a new brand of conservation and model for other companies, bringing together public, private and nonprofit organizations to balance community needs and environmental objectives.''

Waste Management is required to pay for the work as a condition of its operating permit. The Simi landfill was one of the first to initiate this type of paleontological research and pioneered efforts in this direction.

The landfill is rich in history and has yielded important vertebrate fossils.

The area in the hills north of Simi Valley once had an abundant sources of water, including streams and a river. Many of the fossil remains were deposited on land during floods in cycles.

Roeder is responsible for collecting fossil bones and teeth of more than 130 extinct animals. The fossils in the area date back 45 million years.

During the nine-year period, Roeder washed 1,500 tons to 2,000 tons of clay searching for the creatures and screened about 150 tons of rock since 1987 under the fossil recovery program. Because of his work, the museum has about 10,000 specimens, he added.

E. Bruce Lander, the partner in Roeder's firm, said the landfill offers great opportunities for scientific research.

``It's an area where they do all the digging for us,'' he said. ``The fossils we've been able to find at the landfill are microscopic, not really visible but useful for telling time.''

The findings have helped scientists understand what Southern California was like millions of years ago: a subtropical region like Guadalajara, Mexico, is today.

The findings are turned over to the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History for research.

The Simi Valley landfill isn't the only landfill where Roeder has performed this kind of work. He has also worked across landfills in Orange and Los Angeles counties. He became interested in the field as a youngster during a time of discovery.

``At the beginning of the space program, people were looking up,'' he quipped. ``I was looking down. I always had my head in the ground.''

From shark teeth to mammoth skulls, Roeder appreciates his entire collection of finds. ``They're all important because they have a story to tell about life in the past.''

Angie Valencia-Martinez, (805) 583-7604

angie.valencia(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- 2 -- color in Simi edition only) Paleontologist Mark Roeder, above, of Paleo Environmental Associates, has for more than 10 years been the lead on the Simi Valley Landfill's fossil recovery program, finding pieces like the bones of a dog-like animal.

Joe Binoya/Special to the Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 16, 2005
Words:778
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