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Brownback heralds naming of state fossils

4/23/2014

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Elation filled the Sternberg Museum of Natural History lobby Wednesday, swept into western Kansas like the wind that whipped the doors leading into the facility.

Inside, nearly 100 people waited for Gov. Sam Brownback to arrive, who merely smiled and waved as he passed by protesting school teachers outside. He was in Hays for the ceremonial signing of the legislation naming the two state fossils.

"It's a very big moment for us today," museum director Reese Barrick said.

Laudatory comments were passed all around, and science suffered a bit of a setback when Brownback and others talked about the dinosaurs now representing Kansas's official fossils.

They're not dinosaurs at all, actually. Instead, both the Pteranodon, the state's flying fossil, and the Tylosaurus, the state's marine fossil, are reptiles.

They either flew above or swam in what was a great inland ocean approximately 80 million years ago, not the more than 200 million mentioned.

"It's nice to see these fossils recognized and become part of our heritage," said Mike Everhart, an adjunct curator of paleontology at Sternberg.

Everhart was a key player in the push to get the two species listed as the state's fossils, testifying before House and Senate committees.

"He knows more about Kansas paleontology than anyone in this room," said Bob Detrich, a brother to Kansas fossil collector Alan Detrich.

It was Alan Detrich who first suggested a Kansas fossil, but he wanted the Xiphactinus instead, a ferocious fish that swam in the inland ocean. No one ever warmed to the idea of the so-called "X-fish" as a state fossil.

This year, Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton, introduced a bill seeking to name the Pteranodon and Tylosaurus as the state's fossils.

Detrich threw his support behind Hineman's efforts.

"It's going to be the most ferocious mascot Kansas has ever had," he said of the Tylosaurus.

High school students Steven Fisher, a 4-H'er from Scott City, and Serena Colyer, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer's daughter, also praised the designation.

Fisher's interests fall to dinosaurs, but he said his drive to get two state fossils came from his little brother, who "really loves this museum and dinosaurs."

Following the ceremony, Fisher pulled a framed picture of a Pteranodon flying above a mosasaur and presented it to Hineman for his efforts to get the bill passed.

Serena Colyer said she simply would testify she "has an obsession with dinosaurs."

Her father, a Hays native, helped spur movement of the bill when its progress slowed in the Senate.

"I'm just real excited," Serena Colyer said of the state declaring two state fossils.

Brownback also hailed the designation of the two fossils, but continued to refer to them as dinosaurs.

"Too often we don't think enough of what happened here," he said of western Kansas. "There are amazing things that have come out of this area, and this is one of them."

He offered his congratulations to everyone involved.

"Don, you may not have a Walmart, but you have dinosaurs," Brownback said of Hineman's legislative district where many of the reptile fossils have been discovered.