Analysis Of Common Invertebrate & Plant Fossil Definition

Analysis Of Common Invertebrate & Plant Fossil Definition

​Things to consider when commenting on the rule

The law uses the word “common” when it references what invertebrate and plant fossils can be casually collected. Common is a vague word and an unfortunate choice in light of the requirement (Executive Order (EO) 12866) for agencies to use scientific and technical information when writing regulations. Wording the regulation is further complicated by the requirement (EO12866) to write it in a simple and easy to understand manner. In the talking points below you will find the results of our effort to assist the bureaus in defining common in scientific and technical terms which are simple and easy to understand for everyone.

Language regarding “common invertebrate and plant paleontological resource” is found in Supplementary Information and in the proposed rule. The pertinent portions of the Supplementary Information section state:

page 88175 right column 2nd paragraph

“When paleontological resources on certain BLM- and Reclamation-managed lands are common plant or invertebrate fossils, they may be casually collected in compliance with subpart I of the proposed rule. They are still paleontological resources (meaning that they have paleontological interest and provide information about the history of life on earth), but PRPA authorizes the limited collection of these resources on lands administered by BLM and Reclamation where such collection is consistent with the laws governing the management of those lands, PRPA, and subpart I of the proposed rule. ”

page 88182

“Under proposed § 49.810(a)(1), only common invertebrate and common plant paleontological resources may be casually collected. Common invertebrate and common plant paleontological resources are invertebrate or plant fossils that have been established by the bureaus, based on available scientific information and current professional standards, as having ordinary occurrence and widespread distribution. Although these particular resources may be common, they are still paleontological resources as defined in PRPA and the proposed rule. That is, they have paleontological interest and provide information about the history of life on earth. Not all invertebrate or plant paleontological resources are common. If the resources are not common, they may only be collected under a permit. It may not always be possible for a collector to identify in the field whether a fossil is common. When in doubt, collectors should err on the side of caution and collect only the resources that they know are common. The bureaus may hold a trained amateur, avocational paleontologist, or professional to a higher standard of knowledge than the general public about whether or not a fossil is common. If a knowledgeable collector makes an unanticipated discovery of an uncommon paleontological resource while casually collecting, that collector shall not collect that resource because he or she is not authorized to do so. Instead, the collector should alert the relevant bureau. If the collector wishes to pursue collection, he or she must obtain a permit to collect the uncommon resource. If the collector does collect the uncommon resource without a permit, that collector may be subject to penalties. “

The proposed rule 49.810(a)(1) states:

“Common invertebrate or plant paleontological resources are invertebrate or plant fossils that have been  established as having ordinary occurrence and wide-spread distribution. Not all invertebrate or plant paleontological resources are common.”

C​ONCERNS

1. The proposed rule says there are fossils established as being common, but the list of fossils, and how it was created and procedures for maintaining it, are not provided for comment. ​ The proposed rule states “… fossils that have been established by the bureaus, based on available scientific information and current professional standards, as having ordinary occurrence and widespread distribution.” To ensure the regulation is simple and easy to understand and that scientific principles are applied, the bureaus need to provide this list with this regulation for public comment. The list should include text describing how it was developed (scientific process), the proposed procedures to maintain the list, and how much money the development and maintenance of the list will cost the government.

Simply stating in the Supplemental Information that the list has been made “…based on available scientific information and current professional standards…” is not enough to satisfy the requirement in EO12866 to use the “best reasonably obtainable scientific, technical, economic, and other information concerning the need for, and consequences of, the intended regulation.

Bureau response to public comments made on the USFS PRPA rules in 2013 summarily dismissed comments that were not supported with data. Therefore it is understood that public comments on these rules must include data supporting proposed changes to the rule or they will not be considered and the rule will not change. Why can the bureaus make statements in the regulation that are not supported by data or science? Where is the list of references the bureaus used to develop this common fossil list? It seems there is a double standard, the government can make unsupported claims, but the public has to support their comments with data and scientific papers. Bureaus had 8 years to develop this list of common fossils and explain how the list will be maintained and updated in a timely and fiscally responsible manner. Since the list wasn’t provided with the regulations the public can only assume it doesn’t exist, suggesting that if it can’t be developed in 8 years how can the public expect it to be promptly developed upon approval of these rules and then updated in a timely fashion in perpetuity. The list and procedures for updating it should be part of these regulations available for public comment since without it the bureaus fail to make “…regulations to be simple and easy to understand…” (EO12866(1)(b)(12)) using the “…best reasonably obtainable scientific, technical…” information EO 12866 Section 1(b)(7).

Where is the “professional standard” for “ordinary occurrence and wide-spread distribution”? Standard means that something is established, supported by rigorous testing and is readily available so everyone knows what is expected. No such standard of ordinary occurrence and widespread distribution exists. If this standard exists the onus is on the bureaus to cite the references where it is found in the literature.

The simplest approach is to abandon the impossible task of developing and maintaining a list of common fossils is to do one of two things: (1) base the definition of common on something easily measured and maintained such as hiring a bureau employee to data mine museum databases to determine if a minimum number of each species are in collections. The resulting report would be posted to the bureaus website annually (see more indepth explanation of this potential solution elsewhere herein); (2) Adopt the vernacular of common fossils already used for the public by state geological surveys and natural history museums (see Appendix A for examples). These references simply refer to the high level group names such as brachiopod, ammonite, plants, arthropod, etc. In essence they define common fossils as invertebrate and plant fossils. The law directs the secretary to define “common invertebrate and plant paleontological resources”. The law does not preclude the secretary from defining common as including all invertebrate and plant paleontological resources. For reasons of simplicity and fiscal responsibility, as explained elsewhere in these comments, it is clear this broad definition should be the one used in the proposed regulation.

2. “Common” is defined as “ordinary occurrence” and “widespread distribution” but none of these three terms have scientific definitions.  C​ommon has no scientific definition, it is not a scientific term. Common fossil is used in writings for the public (see Appendix A), not in peer-reviewed scientific papers or books intended for other scientists. By defining common as “ordinary” and “widespread” the bureaus defined one non-scientific word with two more non-scientific words, thus compounding the difficulty of proposing a scientific definition. The regulations do not propose recommended criteria for a fossil to be ordinary and widespread, thus the regulation is vague and makes it impossible for the public to comment on this important aspect. No description is provided regarding what level of classification (species, genus, order, class, etc) fossils are defined as common. This leaves the definition of common up for interpretation which will cause confusion. Attempts to define common at the species or genus level will create many problems since lower level taxonomic groups are frequently reclassified by scientists thus creating a monumental task keeping the common fossil list current. Using higher level taxonomic classification to determine common is completely useless since reproductive and preservational success are not the result of high level morphological characteristics.

 

3. And how does ordinary occurrence and widespread distribution work in conjunction in this definition?​ Index fossils are used in paleontology to correlate rock units separated by distances, sometimes globally. The definition of an index fossil varies from one text to another but is generally agreed that an index fossil species is morphologically distinct, widespread, abundant, and short lived (geologically restricted in age). It is rare for fossils to meet these criteria, thus there are not many index fossils defined. In the proposed rule common fossil is defined in terms “ordinary occurrence” and “wide-spread distribution”. It seems this is half the definition of an index fossil. Only rarely are plant fossils an index fossil, Glossopteris being a notable example known only from the southern hemisphere, thus if the proposed rule is instituted, fossil plants could be interpreted as off limits to casual collecting. If the concept of index fossils were applied to invertebrates the rule as written would essentially limit casual collecting to very few species of index fossils.

Endemism is the norm for most plants and animals, they live in a particular niche and do very well there. Organisms of the past were no different. Therefore a fossil may be common or even exceptionally abundant locally but not occur anywhere else worldwide, which by the proposed rule, would presumably mean it is not widespread and therefore cannot be casually collected. For example, the trilobite Elrathia kingi is commercially collected on Utah State land and has been for many decades, with literally millions sold worldwide. Elrathia kingii is only able to be collected from about 2 acres of known exposures on Federal land in the House Range in Utah. Is this widespread? It would seem by the proposed definition of common that Elrathia kingi cannot be casually collected on public lands managed by the bureaus. It is commonly understood that this is one of the most abundant trilobites in North America, yet this proposed rule would prevent the casual collector from looking for it because it is not “widespread.” This flies in the face of logic, the use of “widespread” in the definition of common is not appropriate.

4. The regulations create a self-perpetuating loop where fossils not on the commonlist will will remain so simply because collecting them is prohibited.  C​ommon vs uncommon is often a function of collecting bias than anything else. For example, in the House Range of Utah the shale-dominated central portion of the embayment during the Cambrian Period rarely produces Olenoides trilobites among the more common trilobites and other fossils. It wasn’t until casual collectors started looking in the bedded limestones deposited on the flanks of the embayment that Olenoides were found in abundance. If Olenoides were only known from the shales and these rules were in effect then we would likely never know that Olenoides is abundant in the nearby limestones.

Casual collectors find enjoyment in looking for and discovering fossils and they do it at their own expense. Academic paleontologists have to fund expensive field expeditions, thus their efforts are focused where results are most likely. Olenoides, already known from the shales, would not be the focus of academic research to see of it occurs in the nearby limestones, not to mention the extra cost created by the greater effort and time necessary to break limestone to find them.

5. Citizens are not treated equal under the proposed rule.​ The Supplemental Information of the proposed rule says “The bureaus may hold a trained amateur, avocational paleontologist, or professional to a higher standard of knowledge than the general public about whether or not a fossil is common.” How is training measured? America is a land of equality how can the law hold one person to a different standard than their neighbor? This creates a situation where the public is encouraged to not learn about fossils for fear of being arrested. PRPA requires bureaus to educate about paleontology therefore the bureaus should provide necessary training to bring all citizens to a minimum standard of knowledge of invertebrate and plant fossils along with the propermethods to collect and prepare them. By doing so the bureaus will fulfill the purpose stated in the law and underscored by the use of “Preservation” in the law’s title.

Executive Order 12866 Section 1 says “Federal agencies should promulgate only such regulations as are required by law” and are “necessary to interpret the law.” The law defines casual collecting and requires the secretary to define “reasonable amount”, “common invertebrate and plant paleontological resources” and “negligible disturbance.” Nowhere in PRPA does the law require the secretary to define casual collectors and separate them into groups that are treated differently. The reference to holding “trained amateur, avocational paleontologist, or professional to a higher standard” should be removed from the Supplemental Information.

6. Is leaving a fossil not on the common list in the field after discovering it the right thing to do in the interest of preserving fossils?​ A study of fossil bone at Badlands National Park showed that “In some instances, fossils were completely destroyed in a single season while others were exposed more as the slope eroded with minimal damage” (Stetler, 2014). This study looked at permineralized mammal bones which are much more durable than a thin carbon film of a plant fossil, graptolite or arthropod.

Destruction of fossils by the elements is so commonly known there are few publications that use their precious print space to tell collectors not to leave fossils outside once they are exposed. Here a few examples explaining what happens when fossils are left outside after they are exposed.

The Eocene Messel Pit in Germany preserves the oil shales of an ancient lake and the fossils they entombed. On the Seckenberg Museum website (http://www.senckenberg.de) it explains that “Since the water-containing oil-shale would fall apart if allowed to dry out in the air…” they must be covered with plastic in the field.

Another example is Clarkia fossil beds in northern Idaho that produces abundant fossil leaves, which if not properly cared for immediately begin to disintegrate. An article about Clarkia says “One of the keys to successful fossil digging is making sure that your freshly opened treasures are properly preserved. The carbon-rich materials are likely to dry out and blow away unless you handle them correctly” (http://newwest.net/main/article/digging_up_ancient_treasures_in_clarkia/).

Another example of a quickly degrading clay are the shales of Florissant Colorado which produces abundant insects and leaves. Regarding the paper shales of Florissant, Faulkner (2014) says “The paper shale itself is smectite clay weathered from volcanic ash and is interlayered with diatomite. Each layer is 0.05-2 mm in thickness and contains carbonized fossils of plants and insects, preserved with microscopic details, such as compound eyes, antennae, coloration and venation intact. These fragile fossils are susceptible to cracking and loss from even minor environmental changes, so stabilization is vital.” While many other shales do not react so rapidly to aerial exposure, they nonetheless dry out over time degrading into small fragments and destroying the fossils they contain.

Based on his research of shale Richardson (1985) says “Some shales may be reduced from a rock-like state to a soil—like material of silt or clay sized particles. The rate and magnitude of degradation varies among shale types.”

While different fossils in a variety of rocks will withstand exposure to the elements for differing lengths of time, they are all ultimately destroyed if not collects. Stephen J Gould (1993) said “Most fossil localities should not be regulated like unique archaeological sites. Fossils in the ground, wrapped in red tape, are worthless, and fossils exposed in outcrop will quickly be weathered and destroyed if not collected.” Enough said.

7. What happens to a fossil that is not on the common fossil list and therefore cannot be collected by a casual collector? The Supplementary Information of the proposed rule says “If a knowledgeable collector makes an unanticipated discovery of an uncommon paleontological resource while casually collecting, that collector shall not collect that resource because he or she is not authorized to do so.

There are two major issues with this sentence: it applies only to knowledgeable casual collectors (see discussion on unequal treatment of citizens) and if the fossil is left in the field natural processes will quickly destroy it. To prevent destruction of the fossil, casual collectors should notify the bureau ASAP, though this is not stated in the proposed rule, but if the casual collector is on a multiday trip in the back country this may not be possible. Once notified, if bureau officials do not collect the fossil immediately it will be destroyed, thus defeating the intent of PRPA to preserve fossils. Some rock, in particular shales, when exposed to air will dry out and disintegrate within 24 hours.

The apparent lack of understanding these natural processes is further evidence the bureaus did not use scientific information when drafting the proposed rule. Are the bureaus ready to drop what they are doing and respond to every report of a fossil not on the common list?

The rule does not say what to do when you collect an apparent common fossil covered with matrix, but after preparation at home the specimen is not on the list of common fossils. Will the fear of being charged with a crime make collectors more hesitant of sharing an important discovery?

8. What happens when you “…alert the bureau…” of the discovery of a fossil not on the common list.​ Does every field office have paleontologists capable of identifying every fossil in the field office boundary to the species level, thus enabling them to determine if a fossil is common? They do not. BLM has regional paleontologists who cover large areas, usually covering multiple states (See Appendix B). If common fossil is defined narrowly, thus generating a large number of calls alerting the bureau of fossils not on the common list these few BLM paleontologists will be overwhelmed.

The travel costs to assess each reported fossil will be high, which cost was not addressed in the economic analysis of this regulation. No single paleontologist can know every kind of echinoderm, brachiopod, mollusk, worm, sponge, cnidarian (coral), arthropod, graptolite and plant to the species or morphotype level. If common fossil is defined by species then the government will have to hire multiple paleontologists for each animal and plant group to ensure they are stationed in relative proximity to fossil resources. The financial impact of hiring government paleontologists is not addressed in the economic analysis of the regulation writing process.

This brings into question who in the bureau will visit respond to each reported discovery to identify, collect, and curate the fossils not on the common list. Historically the bureaus have frequently assigned paleontological duties to archeologists which are commonly stationed in field offices while paleontologists are in state offices. Sending the archaeologist to assess paleo resources is not appropriate since archeology and paleontology do not overlap in their expertise. Trained paleontologists must be sent by the bureau to investigate reported fossils to ensure proper identification and proper collecting procedures are used for in situ fossils. This is in accordance with definitions in PRPA defining who can receive a permit to collect fossils on bureau lands therefore if the bureau uses an unqualified employee to assess and collect a fossil the bureau itself is in violation of PRPA.

9. Can casual collectors obtain a permit to collect fossils?​ The Supplementary Information of the proposed rule states, “If the collector wishes to pursue collection, he or she must obtain a permit to collect the uncommon resource.” Casual collectors per definition in the proposed rule are not researchers therefore they cannot collect the fossil for research. Per the proposed rule a casual collector without a degree in paleontology will not qualify for a permit.

So what does “wishes to pursue collection” really mean? As mentioned elsewhere herein, fossils can be destroyed quickly if left in the weather, so taking the time to get a permit to collect the fossil will contribute to the fossil’s destruction. This also causes extra expense to the wouldbe collector who then has to return to the field to collect the fossil with permit in hand.

Under the definition of Collection it says “Because permits may be issued only to further paleontological knowledge, public education, or management of paleontological resources, any collections made under those permits should likewise further these goals. Such collections would be deposited in an approved ​ repository” [emphasis added]. It appears the only purpose for offering the ability for a casual collector to obtain a permit to collect a fossil is so the private citizen spends their personal time and money to collect the fossils and provide it to an institution where the fossil remains the property of the US government. This relieves the bureau of responsibility and cost under PRPA to collect the fossil using bureau staff.

10. The bureau claims not all invertebrate and plant fossil are common, how do they know? ​The Supplemental Information of the proposed rule says “Not all invertebrate or plant paleontological resources are common.” The bureaus do not provide data supporting this statement. The bureau has not adequately defined common, so making an unsubstantiated statement that not all fossils are common does nothing to clarify the issue and violates EO12866 requiring clear and simple language and the use of reasonably available scientific information. Without rigorous scientific support, this statement should be removed. There are many examples of fossils that when first found were not thought to be common, but were later found elsewhere to be common. For example, in one locality in the House Range of Utah, the trilobite Jenkensonia is found in association with the trilobite Brachiaspidion in a ratio of about 1 in 100. Many years later while looking lower in the section and offset laterally about 200 yards, Jenkensonia were found in equal numbers with Brachiaspidion.

Another example is the trilobite Olenoides. Once it was only found as a less common element among more common trilobite species in shales, but was later found to not only be common but also a dominant trilobite in nearby limestones.

11. “Uncommon” is used in the regulation but is not defined. T​he Supplementary Information of the proposed rule uses the word “uncommon” but does not define it. It says “If a knowledgeable collector makes an unanticipated discovery of an uncommon paleontological resource…” and “If the collector does collect the uncommon resource…” As described elsewhere common is not clearly defined in the proposed rule. The use of the term “uncommon” further confuses the matter. According to dictionary.com, the prefix un means not. By adding un to common it now means not common. Uncommon therefore refers to all fossils that are not common. Thus the rule could be construed to mean a casual collector cannot collect abundant fossils because they are not common. Without a good definition of common the proposed rule is unenforceable.

12. Can the public decide what is common? ​ Executive Order 12866 Section 1(b)(3) says “Each agency shall identify and assess available alternatives to direct regulation, including providing economic incentives to encourage the desired behavior, such as user fees or marketable permits, or providing information upon which choices can be made by the public.” [emphasis added]

User fees and marketable permits are used in pollution management. In pollution control, user fees are a tax proportional to amount of pollution produced. Marketable permits are tradable, allowing companies to sell unused pollution amounts to others allowing them to pollute more than the law would allow. Neither of these appear appropriate for casual fossil collecting since casual collecting by definition within PRPA is not commercial.

The last statement “providing information upon which choices can be made by the public” is perfectly in line with PRPA which mandates the bureaus to educate the public about fossils. The proposed rule can define “common” broadly to include all invertebrate and plant fossils then use the required educational portion of the law to educate the public regarding the scientific significance of fossils. In this way the Bureaus can allow the public to decide what fossils are common and provide the rest to an approved repository of their choice.

13. How much will it cost the bureau to define common fossils? E​O Section 1 (b)(6) says “Each agency shall assess both the costs and the benefits of the intended regulation and, recognizing that some costs and benefits are difficult to quantify, propose or adopt a regulation only upon a reasoned determination that the benefits of the intended regulation justify its cost.” Since there is no scientific definition of common the only science-based method to determine what fossils are common is a literature search of the fossil species occurring on bureau lands.

First the bureaus have to research what fossils are in their jurisdiction, obtain and read all articles describing each species to see if the article makes reference to how common the fossil species is. If no mention is made regarding its abundance, how then will its commonness be determined? The data must then be compiled into a publicly accessible database.

This will take many years (estimates place the number of fossil species in excess of 350,000, of which 10s of thousands will be on bureau land) and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Once complete the database will require continuous updating as new publications describe species and redescribe old ones. Creating and maintaining this database will be a very time-consuming task which translates into permanent effort that will ultimately cost the bureaus millions of dollars to attempt with little chance of success. This cost is not included in the cost analysis for the proposed rule. USE THE PALEOBIOLOGY DATABASE EFFORT AS EVIDENCE.

14. Is proposed definition of “common” simple and easy to understand?​ Executive Order 12866 Section 1(b)(12) says “Each agency shall draft its regulations to be simple and easy to understand, with the goal of minimizing the potential for uncertainty and litigation arising from such uncertainty.” The proposed definition of common is so vague and not based on scientific principles that the only way to clarify its meaning is to test it in a court of law. The bureaus are not doing their due diligence defining common but are leaving it to the courts to decide which violates EO12866.

The definition of a common fossils is so elusive there is only one way to define it in a “simple and easy” way: all invertebrate and plant fossils are common. If the public, educated through bureau efforts, finds something they think is unusual they are encouraged to take it to an approved institution for evaluation.

15. Does proposed rule define common in scientific or technical terms?​ EO 12866 Section 1(b)(7) says “Each agency shall base its decisions on the best reasonably obtainable scientific, technical, economic, and other information concerning the need for, and consequences of, the intended  regulation.” Admittedly this is difficult to do when defining an ambiguous word like “common” that legislators used in the law. There is no indication in the supplemental information or proposed rule that the bureaus made an effort to use scientific or technical information when defining common in the regulation. It appears the writers opened a thesaurus and found “ordinary” as a synonym of common.

Widespread is not found in the definition of common nor as a synonym, so it is unclear how widespread became part of the definition of common with regards to fossils. It is clear from how common was defined that those writing the regulation are not familiar with paleontology in the field where limited areas may not only produce common fossils but in many places they are abundant. Fossils need not be widespread to be common, see herein the example of Elrathia kingi.

16. Can definition of common be defined by how many specimens are in approved repositories? ​As described herein, trying to extract from published literature descriptions of what fossils are common will be difficult, if not impossible, to compile and maintain. On the other hand, fossil specimens in approved repositories are always entered into databases. It only takes minutes to query the database for all fossil invertebrate and plants. Combine data from all approved repositories and with the click of the mouse the data can be sorted by genus and species or morphotype number (if not yet formally described). Query the database further to calculate the total number of each species. Separate the list into fossils with more than 10 specimens and a list with 10 or fewer specimens and post the lists to a webpage available to the public. This exercise can be repeated annually to keep it reasonably current as more specimens are added to repositories. By posting both lists the casual collector will be encouraged to look for specimens not on the common list to ensure they become listed as common in the future. This approach will provide specimens and locality information for academic paleontologists to access and learn where they would like to complete their next project under permit, which will further increase the number of specimens in repositories well beyond 10 specimens.

Ten specimens is proposed for two reasons. (1) Fossil leaves are rarely formally described and given a genus and species name. Rather they are described as morphotypes. Paleobotanists at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science pioneered this morphotyping process in the 1990s. One fossil leaf is selected as the holomorphotype. Up to nine additional fossil leaves are selected to show the full range of morphological variation. The best Morphotype Quality Index score is obtained by having 10 well preserved leaves (all showing at least 5th order venation) (visit http://www.paleobotanyproject.org/morphotyping.aspx) (2) Invertebrate fossils are generally less morphologically variable than leaves. When formally described, a single specimen is designated as a holotype against which all other specimens are compared.

If a new fossil is found showing better or previously undescribed characteristics it may be designated a paratype but it doesn’t replace the holotype, no matter how poorly the morphological characters are preserved on the holotype. It is difficult to find what is considered a maximum number of syntypes though in Just Our Types: A Short Guide to Type Specimens by the American Museum of Natural History it says “Having too many syntypes around can be confusing…”., suggesting a low number is preferred.

R​ECOMMENDED​ R​ULE​ LA​NGUAGE

First preference in how Supplementary Information section should read:

Under proposed § 49.810(a)(1), only common invertebrate and common plant paleontological resources may be casually collected for personal use. The bureaus have determined that in order to minimize the potential for uncertainty arising from the great diversity of invertebrate and plant fossils, that all invertebrate and plant paleontological resources shall be considered common. Additionally due to this diversity of invertebrate and plant fossils, the cost to define common in any other way far exceeds the potential benefit. Although these particular resources may be common, they are still paleontological resources as defined in PRPA and the proposed rule. That is, they have paleontological interest and provide information about the history of life on earth. Casual collectors are strongly encourage to collect using proper techniques and record associated data (such as: which side was up (if found in situ), date found, GPS coordinates, and its geologic formation). This ensures the continued scientific value of the fossil. The bureaus will create learning resources to educate casual collectors in proper collecting techniques and assist in the identification of common invertebrate and plant fossils thus furthering the educational provisions of PRPA.

Second preference in how Supplementary Information section should read:

Under proposed § 49.810(a)(1), only common invertebrate and common plant paleontological resources may be casually collected for personal use. Common invertebrate and common plant paleontological resources are invertebrate or plant fossils with 10 or more specimens in approved repositories. Although these particular resources may be common, they are still paleontological resources as defined in PRPA and the proposed rule. That is, they have paleontological interest and provide information about the history of life on earth. Most invertebrate and plant paleontological resources are common. If the resources are not listed as common the casual collector should notify the bureau as soon as possible. The bureau will dispatch a paleontologist to assess the fossil discovery within 48 hours of receiving notification. It may not always be possible for a collector to identify in the field whether a fossil is common. When in doubt, collectors should err on the side of caution and notify the bureau. If a casual collector keeps a fossil not listed as a common resource that collector may be subject to penalties. To reduce uncertainty and potential litigation regarding what is common, the bureaus shall establish a list of common fossils compiled from approved repository databases. The list will be updated annually using the most current data from all repositories. The bureaus will create learning resources to bring all casual collectors to the same minimum level of understanding about fossils and proper collecting techniques thus furthering the educational provisions of PRPA.

First preference for wording of proposed rule 49.810(a)(1):

Common invertebrate or plant paleontological resources means all invertebrate and plant fossils. This broad definition recognizes the great abundance and diversity of invertebrate and plant fossils on Federal lands.

Second preference for wording of proposed rule 49.810(a)(1):

Common invertebrate or plant paleontological resources are invertebrate or plant fossils with ten or more specimens housed in an approved repository. Most invertebrate or plant paleontological resources are common.

In addition, 49.810(c) is redundant with language and explanations elsewhere in the regulations and is unnecessary to repeat thus it should be deleted.

C​ONCLUSION

It is anticipated that the discussion above will stimulate other ideas related to the proposed rule on “common invertebrate or plant paleontological resources”. Please share your thoughts to encourage dialog.


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