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.

Learn More About The Specific Issues!

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:

1) collect a fossil that could be vaguely defined as not being “common”

2) collect a single rock containing a fossil larger than a 8 1/2″ x 11″ piece of paper and 3 inches thick (this exceeds 25 lbs),

3) dig a hole a foot larger than allowed, or,

4) within ten feet of an adjacent hole.

5) contribute a fossil they found to research.

6) use a tool larger than a geology hammer to collect fossils.

A photo showing the absurdity of these regulations. There are two clear violations of the proposed regulations in this photo.

Read “What’s So Bad?” For More Details

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Unclear how undergraduate research such as that required for thesis papers is possible under these regulations.
  6. 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.

Comment on the Regulations Now!

34 thoughts on “

  1. Regarding interpretation of the Paleontological Resource Protection Act (PRPA) by federal land managing agencies other than the BLM. I work on Cambrian monoplacophorans and multiplated mollusks in the Ozarks of Missouri, many localities for these are on national forest land in southern Missouri. Current interpretations of the PRPA for national forest land totally prohibits any paleontological collecting–a child who picks up a chert fossil on national forest land would now be committing what could be considered a serious crime.
    I am also concerned with this for, as a retired geologist/educator, I work on and publish on Precambrian, Cambrian and Lower Ordovician fossils of the Ozarks. I have been, and currently) are involved with the Missouri Academy of Science where I present some of my research in publications of this organization. Current PRPA regulations regarding national forest land would either prohibit this or would add so much red-tape and permit costs as to make my self- funded research impossible.

    1. Hi Bruce! Nice to see you are still collecting fossils after all these years. Thanks for the help when I worked on the Cambrian-Ordovician boundary ~25 years ago. You are a paleontologist of high ethical values as well as outstanding science so your comments hold some weight. Russell Shapiro.

  2. Illegal to conduct research on a fossil found on BLM land makes no sense whatsoever. Isn’t research critical to understand the past to help us in the present and the future? Global warming? Extinction? Scientific curiosity?

    A senator from Hawaii sponsored the bill so Im wondering …. Are the issues in Hawaii that this act theoretically would solve the same as in other states? Are some of the issues unique to Hawaii in regards to sacred land? Would understanding the motivations behind this bill help in efforts to amend it?

  3. This is a joke and must stop immediately. Amateur collectors contribute more to the science of paleontology then anyone else and most specimens in museums have been found buy amateur collectors; who often donate them to museums. In fact, many specimens in museums are poorly curated and get lost for years in storage and don’t get studied properly, as many museums are under staffed and under funded. The only way is to have all groups working together

  4. I am concerned about the changes being being suggested. I understand and agree that some protection is needed. However, I feel that a better approach would be to treat collecting like fishing or hunting. A yearly reasonable fee, an education course like hunter safety. This would provide blm with funding and allow people to continue the hobby. I drastic change like what is being suggested will damage relationships between collectors and authority. People would still collect and the government would be sending retired, tax paying citizens, our door and educated enthusiasts to jail.

  5. I am concerned about the changes being being suggested. I understand and agree that some protection is needed. However, I feel that a better approach would be to treat collecting like fishing or hunting. A yearly reasonable fee, an education course like hunter safety. This would provide blm with funding and allow people to continue the hobby. I drastic change like what is being suggested will damage relationships between collectors and authority. People would still collect and the government would be sending retired, tax paying citizens, our door and educated enthusiasts to jail. ..

    1. I think managing it that way makes a lot of sense. Certainly a lot more sense than anything they have been proposing. There is a very base level education that would be nice to have for casual collectors in understanding the laws and how to properly preserve and document finds.

  6. this is truly depressing I hope y’all do not stop people from hunting it is one of the only things that for fills my life one of the only things that make me happy and keep me sane with lots of people searching that is a new way to discover new species if this is in effect you will be ruining thousands of people’s happy lives what’s the point of paleontology if you can’t start up doing that first 🙁

  7. So we leave it there and no one gets to enjoy the beauty of these fossils. So what good is it going to do left in the ground where no one can enjoy the beauty of the past? It makes no sense at all and I feel as though this should be a right as a human being. What gives them the right to even make a law for us not to collect these fossils? I could understand making rules for how you find them. We wouldnt want everyone with a backhoe showing up to dig , now that could be a issue. Sorry to say , but it will not stop me from collecting something that I enjoy the beauty of and if left in the ground then no one would see it. What a bunch of B.S

  8. Govt overreach. The totalitarian BLM is working overtime too close all public lands. Attrition with our public lands is an ongoing war against Americans. Constantly creating small laws, and more laws buried in other laws. This law when used with all the closed roads, wilderness study areas, effectively shuts down all public lands.
    It will not be long before all BLM roads have locks on them. Only the BLM and their families, and people rich enough to pay to view, will be able to enjoy what they have stolen. If you are not familiar with Agenda 21 you will see that this is part of that NWO plan.

    1. I fully agree with you, Mr Draper. As a practicing, degreed and certified Geologist I collect fossils, minerals and ores as I am often asked to present short talks to elementary and middle school students regarding the Natural Sciences. The BLM (and Forest Service) overreach is nothing new as it has been going on since the 1970’s. Said overreach is invasive, pervasive and self perpetuating. Surely an insult to our citizen’s rights. I, for one, will contact my Representative and my Senator regarding this latest “power grab”

  9. i agree deb the way i read article you cant get fossills but. if a person owns minerals rights there is a conflict there it appears

  10. Vertebrate fossils are part of our natural history, they cannot be replaced, they are invaluable, they are not suitable as souvenirs. These regulations sound like a good to me and I’m surprised they were not included with the Federal Antiquities Act of 1906, signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican. What a rock hound may fail to realize is that the geological context of a fossil location is often as important as the fossil itself. What position did the fossil animal take? What are the geologic age-relevant clues from its location? Putting vertebrate fossils from federal lands into a shoebox to be thrown away later is a ridiculous waste of natural resources. We have antiquities laws in place for a reason.

    1. I’m not sure you actually read any of the content on the website. None of the destructive provisions on the regulations which we have are pointing out have anything to do with vertebrate fossils. The problems lie in the definitions of casual collecting of “common invertebrate and plant fossils” as well as the permitting requirements which will do serious harm to research on invertebrate and plant fossils. Please don’t try to misrepresent the issues.

    2. You know not what you speak. A wealth of information will be lost. Many, many amateurs do a fine job of documenting their finds, and do not ‘keep them in a shoe box”. That is an ignorant statement. Museum collections are replete with donations from amateurs who contribute greatly to the knowledge of the field. Take the Miocene-Pliocene fauna of the Lee Creek Mine in Aurora, NC as an example. There, amateurs have opened and funded their own museum! Most collectors I have known who have passed donated their collections to museums, or are planning to.

      Further, fossils sit, rotting to gravel in the millions of acres that is the empire of the BLM. Doubt me? Go to the Morrison beds in SE Utah and you can readily see Dino bones eroding out of the strata and breaking up.

      Please educate yourself on the topic before commenting.

      1. This is an excellent example of the sort of context and evidence free fear mongering that many people use to advance a “hands off the world” agenda. Important fossil deposits (e.g. John Day fossil beds) and ALL vertebrate fossils already enjoy strong federal protection. The new law and their accompanying regulations now criminalize so many aspects of a legitimate and traditional hobby enjoyed by thousands of people annually on our public lands as to effectively choke them off and end them for good. Lost with that is not only the specific discoveries (i.e. most named fossils ever found) and the interest their activities generate in cultivating the next generation of scientists. Your naive assumptions about these activities are pushing the next generation away from learning and participating with natural sciences and putting them on the couch with video games. It’s a senseless loss that has nothing to do with science and everything to do with an extreme agenda to lock the public out of public lands.

  11. You haven’t proposed any solutions except the voice of outrage. How is that any better than protecting public property?

    1. Please read through our outlines of the specific sections that are problematic with the proposed regulations. They can be fixed while keeping critical protections in place. We’re very concerned about some overly vague or restrictive definitions that create situations so impractical as to severally impact the ability of amateurs to collect, and researchers to continue their research.

      We’ve provided proposed solutions in our in depth analysis related casual collecting.


      Full analysis of the permitting requirements, which are much more damaging to research is still being worked on.

    2. Any form of “protection” that requires the public not to use a public resource is not protection, it’s a lockout. While locking away the public’s treasures is a philosophy advocated by a people who frankly don’t get out much, it isn’t balanced and doesn’t take into account traditional uses. What is being advocated on this site is both a call to spread the word and to (effectively) participate in the public comment period before the narrow set of interests that were considered in drafting these regulations succeed in imposing their priorities through federal regulations.

  12. I am curious as to why they feel it necessary to create such stiff restrictions, What is their reasoning for virtually stopping scientific research, and a fun hobby that gets people out in the fresh air. I do believe that we, the people, with our taxes and such, fund the BLM, I also believe that they are way over reaching their authority with out a public hearing, yes I know we are here right now, but until right now, I didnt even know they were changing anything. It seems as though they wanted to slip this by the people, but for what reason? It seriously disgusts me when the government has to stick their nose so deep in our lives, with no rhyme or reason. In my opinion, they need to take their legislation back to the drawing board, and re-evaluate what really needs to be done, and actually think about the far reaching damaging aspects of their decisions. It is ridiculous to face jail time for picking up a rock that contains a fossil.

    1. I agree with you 100%! I suspect this legislation was drafted up by folks who never get outside, couldn’t care less about these activities, but were talked into this by some obscure lobbyist with a different agenda. I became a scientist because I collected rocks, fossils, reptiles, amphibians … etc. in my youth. Over the years some of these innocent activities have become illegal, and now “they” want to make fossil collecting illegal on public lands (though I do agree with the ban in national parks)? How does the current (and future) generation become fascinated in the field sciences if they can’t get out and do these types of activities?

  13. This proposal will cause a huge surge in black market fossils and put innocent people in jail for accidently picking up a rock with an imprint of a rare fossil on it. We already donate rare finds. I don’t want fish and game doing search and seizure on Me. How do they determine probable cause according to the forth amendment. Forget this new proposal. New laws make mire criminals. Leave us be and let us keep our healthy passion for hunting rocks and fossils. With this new permit law and new rules I see a lot of our Blm land that we as citizens own being closed to us. Please don’t pass this proposal or at least let us citizens vote on it. Don’t just try to slip it by us.

  14. I’m a retired school teacher with a newfound interest in fossils. I enjoy exploring, collecting and identifying these wonderful pieces of the past. With new proposed legislation, I may be restricted in this educational hobby. I have already shared my interest with children in my home town of Ocean Isle Beach and they, in turn, are sharing their knowledge with others.
    Our goal of encouraging young stewards to care for the Earth may be pushed in reverse and I don’t want that to happen.

    Specifics mentioned in our North Carolina Club meeting ask for considering all non vertebrate paleontological resources as common until determined to be otherwise. Next, allowing maximum of 50 pounds per day per person not to exceed 1,000 pounds per year of material collected. Leaving the collected surface substantially undisturbed to the casual observer. Finally, remove the term “research” as a restriction.

    With cooperation and blending of ideas, we can allow professionals and amateurs to continue our enjoyment and research of the Earth.

  15. Save science! Come up with a permit system that will still protect certain areas, but allow the collection in others.

  16. And again government over reach has gone to an extreme!! I have the utmost respect for our land and never want to see it plundered or pillaged, but when government gets involved they act as though anyone without a high specific degree in a field knows nothingand they think this is what will happen. I think it is job security for these agencies to overdo regulations and their lust for control over people knows no end. All in the name of protection. The current regulations are sufficient to protect our land and I for one would love to see these agencies spend more time educating our young people to respect than sit in offices dreaming up ways to keep people from using and enjoying the land in a safe and reasonable way. No wonder our childen want to retreat into a world of make believe video games, our real world ties our hands every chance they get.

  17. To Whom May Concern:

    I am writing this in protest to the new regulations for collecting invertebrate fossils on BLM lands. Restrictive regulations already exist for vertebrate fossils and the newly proposed regulations would virtually stop any scientific research, sharing of information, and encouragement to enjoy our public lands.

    As an amateur collector that has a deep love and regard for the outdoors and specializes in petrified woods, I find these new rules to be overly restrictive, and they would virtually destroy our rock collecting hobby as it applies to invertebrate fossils. Most amateur collectors pick up material that is on the surface, and actually help to preserve the specimen due to the fact that most fossils will rapidly decompose once exposed to the surface. Also, for those collectors who participate in rock shows, sell and trade, these new regulations would have a huge financial impact by curtailing invertebrate fossil collecting.

    Put quite simply, these proposed new regulations are another example of gross government over reach as it applies to public lands. I personally am opposed to these new regulations and would solicit your support to reject the proposed regulations for collecting invertebrate fossils on BLM lands.

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