The largest mammoths to roam the earth received some recognition Friday when President Barack Obama designated an excavation site and park in Waco as a national monument.
“This is one of the most incredible collections of mammoth fossils anywhere in the country,” Obama said. “And for us to be able to preserve this space is going to be important not only to scientists, but also to many people who are able to take a look at this incredible landscape down in Texas.”
The Waco site was one of three national monument designations Obama made in a signing ceremony at the White House.
“One of the great legacies of this incredible country of ours is our national parks and national monuments,” he said. “It is something that we pass on from generation to generation, preserving the incredible beauty of this nation, but also reminding us of the richness of its history.”
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In addition to Waco, Berryessa Snow Mountain in California and Basin and Range in Nevada were named national monuments for their historic landscapes.
The Waco Mammoth National Monument is the site of an excavation that holds a large concentration of remains of Columbian mammoths, including a rare nursery herd that appears to have drowned in a gorge. The largest of the mammoths, the elephant-like Columbian mammoths lived 10,000 to 1 million years ago.
Bigger than the better known woolly mammoth, the Columbian mammoths were 13 feet tall, weighed as much as 20,000 pounds and had enormous tusks.
The site has excavated the fossils of 24 mammoths, as well as the remains of other animals that have long since vanished, including the western camel and the saber-toothed cat.
“This site’s historical significance and educational value have long been a source of pride for the Waco community and the state of Texas,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
The city of Waco, Baylor University and the Waco Mammoth Foundation created the site, which includes a museum and education center that opened to the public in 2009.
“Our national parks inspire and teach us about our nation’s natural history; in this case, about the prehistoric animals that walked our Earth tens of thousands of years ago,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said.
The National Park Service is part of the Interior Department.
“The Waco Mammoth National Monument will share the wonder of these incredible mammoths with visitors from around the world,” Jewell said, “and help introduce a new generation to the thrill of scientific discovery that only a special site like this can demonstrate first-hand.”
‘An exciting day’
Ken Starr, president and chancellor of Baylor University in Waco said, “This is an exciting day for our community and the great state of Texas and one we have been anticipating for many years.”
He called the National Monument status “a testament to the invaluable partnership between the City of Waco, Baylor University and the National Park Service.”
Gayle Lacy, president of the Mammoth Foundation said, “Waco is thrilled to be on the National Park Service map. We have proudly preserved the Mammoth Site in hopes of sharing it with all Americans as a national park site.”
Obama used the Antiquities Act to designate the three sites as national monuments – a law first used by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 to preserve historic landscapes.
Maria Recio is the Star-Telegram’s Washington bureau chief.