On Dec 7th, 2016 the BLM released regulations governing the collecting of fossils on the public lands they manage. The regulations were required in order to comply the the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act of 2009. These regulations impact nearly 258 million surface acres under management by the BLM, including the majority of ALL public land in many Western States.
As drafted these regulations are either so impractical or vaguely defined as to create a detrimental impact on the amateur collecting of fossils on public lands. They create create a spiderweb of beaurocratic red tape which will stifle future research into invertebrate and plant fossils.
Had these regulations been in place for the last 100 years, thousands of new species discovered by amateurs and hobby collectors would never have been contributed to science. Innumerable elementary school students across the country would not have received educational programs from local fossil lovers and perhaps been given their first fossil. Many paleontologists in America would not have had their interests kindled by the thrill of discovery.
Consider the long-reaching negative consequences this rule will have on the science of paleontology, education of our children, and hobby collecting. Please take the time to tell the BLM and BOR how you recommend they change the rules to ensure the long and healthy life of paleontology as a profession and hobby.
The 60 day public comment period ends on Feb 6th. This is the chance we have to stop this overreach by the BLM, protect science, education and the public’s ability to collect fossils themselves.
But, casual collecting of fossils is still allowed, right?
While casual collecting of common invertebrate and plant fossils is technically allowed by the law, the actual definitions provided by the regulations are so overly restrictive that collecting fossils as a hobby will be impractical on most lands managed by the BLM. A person will be breaking the law and therefore subject to fines and imprisonment for up to five years if they do any of the following:
Why are these regulations so devastating to research?
All research work done into fossils on public lands now requires a permit. This includes research that doesn’t even involve the physical collection of fossil specimens. The regulations explicitly forbid fossils collected under the casual collecting exception to be used for research purposes.
The permitting requirements were written in the context of large scale vertebrate research projects, and are entirely inappropriate for the types of small scale research projects typically associated with invertebrate paleontology or paleobiology. The restrictions and red tape created would make this research next to impossible from a practical perspective.
- A graduate degree in paleontology or related field of study with an emphasis in paleontology is required. Much of the published work in paleontology is done by people with degrees in Geology or Biology and much of the field research behind these papers is often done by self taught, avocational paleontologists that don’t have degrees.
- ALL specimens must be stored in an approved repository. Yes, this includes every brachiopod, every conodont, ever fossil invertebrate collected that ends up not being relevant to the research project. Approved repositories do not have the resources to do this. It puts impossible logistics on research when the fossils are often at a different physical location than where research is done. Huge amounts of paperwork is required by all parties involved.
- The regulations specify that locality information can not be published, made publicly available or even released under the Freedom of Information Act. This is just bad science and many scientific journals and public grants require this information to be published.
- Permit process is costly and time consuming for small scale research. Months spent to get a permit just to collect a sample of brachiopod fossils from public land.
- Unclear how undergraduate research such as that required for thesis papers is possible under these regulations.
- Fossils collected by amateurs is the lifeblood of invertebrate paleontology where budgets tend to be much more limited than vertebrate paleontology. Sever restrictions imposed on amateur collecting makes this no longer possible.
What can I do?
The public has a limited time to provide comments to the BLM on these regulations. Critical to providing comments is understanding why and how the regulations are so limiting, as well has how to comment in an effective manner.