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Meet a Paleontologist
Rebecca Hunt Foster at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (LACM) dig, sitting with a sauropod femur on BLM land near the Field Office in Monticello. UT.
Rebecca Hunt-Foster with a fossil dinosaur track at the BLM Field Office in Moab, UT.
Rebecca Hunt-Foster with a fossil stromatolite in Glacier National Park, MT.
Canyon Country District Paleontologist
Bureau of Land Management, Utah
NFD Kid's Page Interview...
What is your job, and what do you study?
I am the District Paleontologist for Bureau of Land Management Canyon Country District in southeastern Utah. My district is composed of 3.5 million acres that extend from the Bookcliffs to the north, south to the Arizona border, with the western border made up by the Colorado and Green Rivers and the eastern border being Colorado. I am based out of Moab, and my job involves managing the paleontological resources in my district. This involves everything from public outreach, field work and surveys, helping our partners in museums and universities with permits, excavations and research, while also doing site visits and inspections to insure compliance, long-term monitoring of resources, and maintaining databases of all of our surveys, reports, and resources. I am currently the only District Paleontologist in the BLM, and I hope other offices will soon benefit from having a paleontologist on staff.
What are you working on now?
Our field season is starting to wind down, so I have been doing many site visits, to check excavations and help with field work as needed. I have also been helping our partnering scientists prepare for fall field work by writing the environmental assessments needed to begin excavation work, and preparing their permits. I am also currently planning National Fossil Day activities for our area.
Where did you go to school? What were some of your favorite classes that you took?
I went to high school in Arkansas, and did my undergraduate degree at the University of Arkansas, and attended Texas Tech University where I received my Master's degree in Geology. Some of my favorite classes were Photography, Historical Geology, Paleontology, Sedimentary Rocks, and Conservation of Natural Resources. Our geology department at the University of Arkansas is great, and we took many field trips to collect minerals, rocks and invertebrate fossils, and learn about geology through the soles of our shoes, and not just the seat of our pants.
Was there an experience you had that made you realize you wanted to be a paleontologist?
I have always loved to be outside in nature. I have long had an interest in both animals and rocks, and paleontology was a natural fit for me, a merger of the two. When we would take trips as a kid I often wondered why the rocks looked the way they do, how they formed, and why you find fossils of different kinds where you do. My mom is a librarian and I would spend many days and evenings in the library with her where I had as many books as I could read waiting for me. The more I read about paleontology, the more I was drawn to it. I also love to be outside when it is warm and inside when it is cold, and paleontology usually caters to that schedule.
What is your most memorable experience working with fossils?
My first memorable experience was when I was around 13 years old. I met a local Arkansas paleontologist, Dr. Leo Carson Davis, who invited me on my first dig. This excavation was of sinkhole sediments in Peccary Cave, Newton County, Arkansas. Dr. Carson Davis took me into the cave and showed me his excavation and how they dug in the soft Pleistocene sediments. There was a deep shaft they had excavated, with a ladder descending into it. He had me climb down the ladder, and then he pulled the ladder back out of the hole and told me I could come back out after I had sent up several bucket loads of sediment back up to the top. This was all very fun, dark, muddy and wet, and I very distinctly remember seeing a small rodent jaw still in the sediment of the shaft wall. Afterwards I was able to help them screen wash the material we had retrieved near a local creek and inspect the various fragments of bone we had discovered. Dr. Carson Davis has always been a mentor to me and with his encouragement I was able to find my way through the paleo maze to where I am today.
Do you have any advice for aspiring paleontologists?
Read everything you can get your hands on: books from your local library, magazine articles, textbooks, and technical papers. Keep an open mind, but a critical eye. Contact paleontologists with questions - if you read something in a book or see something on tv, seek that person out and ask them your question. You might be surprised, but often they do take the time to answer. Check with your local land management agency, university, college or museum and see if they have any volunteering opportunities. Get outside and experience nature! The world around you holds many keys to the past. When you are older, attend professional meetings, even if you are not presenting, and introduce yourself to other paleontologists, including your fellow peers, as these are the people you will most likely work with as you begin your career.