Saved in Time

By Estella Leopold and Herb Meyer

2012, University of New Mexico Press

 

Saved in Time by Estella Leopold and Herb Meyer, with contributions by John Stansfield, is a wonderful account of the preservation of the Florissant fossil beds in Colorado. “In this small area (6,000 acres) are preserved in readily available form more species of terrestrial fossils than are known anywhere else in the world” (Entomology Department of American Museum of Natural History). The book describes that period within the Eocene epoch of 36 to 34 million [Wikipedia says 56 to 34 million] years ago when the fossils were formed and preserved due to volcanic ash sedimentation that resulted from nearby Guffey Volcano. Great fossilized stumps, meters in diameter, fossil pollen and spores, and 1,700 insects and spiders are among the species immortalized at Florissant.

 

During the 19th century, tourists were lured there, and many fossils were pirated away. In the 20th century, Walt Disney himself purchased and relocated a magnificent stump that he presented to his wife on their 30th wedding anniversary. The fossil beds came into high jeopardy in the 1960s when real estate developers wanted to build houses on the habitat. Saved in Time reads like a mystery thriller wherein a handful of committed environmentalists (including Estella Leopold, younger daughter of Aldo Leopold) take on Park Land Company and a dozen or so private landowners to forestall the destruction. Should they win, the fossil beds would become a national monument administered by the National Park Service. Should they lose, Florissant would be ripped asunder, thus depriving the world of a gateway into an earlier time whose own story contributes greatly to the understanding of evolution of species.

 

This tale is a splendid presentation of collaborative efforts between scientists, grassroots activists and forward thinking-attorneys. This was one of the most significant environmental battles waged in the American West, and one of the earliest, taking place just as the modern environmental movement was burgeoning. Saved in Time brings to mind John Nichols’ Milagro Beanfield War and Edward Abbey’s Monkey Wrench Gang. This true story with a happy ending (unless you’re a real estate developer) includes descriptive science and environmental ethics and harkens back to Aldo Leopold, who re-introduced conscience into the continuum of humankind’s relationship to homeland.

 

Jack Loeffler