California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Solid Waste Facilities Engineering Support Services

Paleontologic Resources of Landfills

Paleontology

Operating a landfill can result in unexpected surprises, which can result in expensive delays. Fossils are commonly found in many landfills in California, primarily in Southern California.

An example in northern California at Fairmead Landfill created shock, delays and, ultimately, solutions and discoveries. Significant finds and new species are being discovered in 30 of California's landfills, yielding new data.

Landfills, as well as many other large excavation projects, can provide a significant avenue for paleontological research throughout California. The nature of these projects allows for large-scale removal of earth materials, which would otherwise be unavailable to the paleontological research community. Landfills are located in every region of California (map), (SWIS). This wide dispersal of landfills provides opportunities for excavations in every geologic province of the state.

Operators of landfills have a goal; to develop a landfill and have it operational to receive waste as quickly as possible. Part of the permit review process includes the assurance of compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which addresses the potential impacts a project may impart on the environment. CEQA mandates that archaeological and paleontological impacts of a project be addressed and that a project be suspended until a qualified paleontologist or archaeologist is called in to evaluate or assess the find.

A standard, effective protocol for personnel contact and the appraisal, removal, and storage of fossil remains is needed. This protocol will prove beneficial to the research community and improve compliance with the mandates of CEQA. A standard protocol also will allow operators to resume construction excavation quickly, possibly while fossil retrieval is being conducted on site.

For more on landfills and paleontology and some species diversities uncovered, see:

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Last updated: January 12, 2010
Closure and Technical Services, http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/SWFacilities/TechServices/
Mike Wochnick: Michael.Wochnick@calrecycle.ca.gov (916) 341-6318