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5:49 AM Sun, Nov. 18th

Tucson museum ponders future of Sonorasaurus fossil

TUCSON (AP) — The fossilized remains of the Sonorasaurus thompsoni is only in one place, the Arizona-Sonora Museum.

But that may change in the future.

The Southwest Museum in Mesa, which recently reopened with an expanded dinosaur exhibit, has offered to take over the Arizona-Sonora Museum's fossil collection. And some in Tucson's scientific community say the museum should accept the offer unless it's willing to make a stronger commitment to what they say is a neglected paleontology program.

The fossil collection is small, but highlighted by the only known fossil of the Sonorasaurus.

Robert McCord, curator of paleontology at Mesa Southwest, said he told the Desert Museum it has his support if it wants to make a greater commitment to its paleontology program. "On the flip side," he told the museum, "if you don't, the Mesa Southwest is interested in your fossils and your sites."

Rick Daley, executive director of the Desert Museum, said it is conducting a full review of its paleontology program with some decisions on its future expected this year.

But, he said, the most important thing the public should know is the Desert Museum will have a permanent Sonorasaurus exhibit opening this fall as planned, regardless of any other actions the museum takes.

It likely will include a small model of the Sonorasaurus, a selection of real bones and cast models, and a diorama of the animal's environment. "I think (visitors) are going to be wondrous at the display as they are at all of our displays ... It will give people a sense of perspective about how the geologic history of this area has changed," Daley said.

Some in Tucson, however, say the paleontology program and collection is on a downhill slide. And they say, among other indicators, that The Desert Museum hasn't had a paleontologist on staff since the previous head of the Sonorasaurus project left in 1998; and the museum's state permits to dig at the Sonorasaurus site in a desert canyon near Sonoita, 40 miles south of Tucson, expired at the end of 1996 and no one renewed them.