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Highlighted Comment: Craig Stevenson

Highlighted Comment: Craig Stevenson

Remember the public commenting deadline for the proposed Paleontological Resources Preservation Act regulations is Feb 6th.  Please lease a comment on the regulations themselves to make your voice heard.  Below is an exceptional comment just posted on the regulations by Craig Stevenson.

RE: Federal Register Number 2016-29244

To Whom It May Concern:

I wish to comment on the Department of the Interior’s proposed regulations for Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) lands for the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act (PRPA) of 2009.

While I fully support most of the proposed regulations concerning vertebrate paleontology, I find that regulations regarding resource collections by professional or avocational invertebrate paleontologists and much of the regulations regarding all collections of invertebrate and plant fossils have been improperly developed without regard for the impracticality of following the regulations as currently written and the impracticality of enforcing these regulations on lands managed by the BLM and other federal land management agencies. My analysis is that these regulations have been developed in a virtual “vacuum” and require a broader vetting in both professional and public forums before finalization. The regulations pose as much uncertainty as they attempt to clarify.

While the PRPA is a reasonable, overarching concept in law, the existing U.S. Forest Service (USFS) regulations and these regulations proposed for BLM lands exhibit a lack of understanding of the realities of both hobby collecting and scientific collecting with regard to invertebrate and plant species. As an amateur collector, I am offended by the apparent lack of understanding and recognition of the scientific contributions of amateurs that these regulations represent. There is also a failure to understand the potential negative effects to science by imposing such draconian regulations on a popular hobby.

Although the PRPA identifies that:

“In General- The Secretary shall manage and protect paleontological resources on Federal land using scientific principles and expertise. The Secretary shall develop appropriate plans for inventory, monitoring, and the scientific and educational use of paleontological paleontological resources, in accordance with applicable agency laws, regulations and policies. These plans shall emphasize interagency coordination and collaborative efforts where possible with non-Federal partners, the scientific community, and the general public.”

It is clear that the intent of the proposed regulations is to create a series of hurdles to casual collecting that do two things:

  1. Make collecting as difficult as possible for the amateur.
  2. Sever any ties between amateurs and professional invertebrate paleontologists.

These proposed regulations are clearly out of line with the stated purpose of the PRPA.

It is readily apparent from my reading of the proposed regulations that they were developed with little input from professional or avocational invertebrate paleontologists. It is also apparent that the proposed regulations may have also been developed with little or no input from the BLM. The regulations read similar to those for the more restrictive vertebrate paleontology applications, than to long-held BLM regulations regarding invertebrate paleontology. In fact, in Instruction Memorandum No. 2009-113, the Bureau states:

The PRPA of 2009, Public Law 111-011, Title VI, Subtitle D, does not change the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) basic policy for allowing casual collecting of reasonable amounts of common invertebrate and plant fossils from public lands for personal use without a permit. Nor does the PRPA change the prohibition on bartering or selling common invertebrate and plant fossils.

If, as this indicates, the BLM had reviewed the PRPA and identified no significant reasons to change policies, there is no demonstrated reason for such drastic regulatory changes at this time.

The PRPA directs the development of regulations within the Department of the Interior and across all federal lands. Each of the land management agencies have different mandates for managing these lands and, as such, attempting to provide completely consistent regulations is not practical. The proposed BLM regulations are largely an adoption of the existing USFS regulations. Since the proposed regulations were not developed for application to lands managed by the BLM and, as such, are arbitrary and capricious. This inappropriate situation requires immediate change.

Executive Order 12866, Section 1, states, “Federal agencies should promulgate only such regulations as are required by law” and are “necessary to interpret the law. The proposed regulations clearly exceed this direction in many areas.

In the Bureau’s explanation of the proposed regulation it is related that § 49.810(a) restates the PRPA definition of casual collecting. This “restatement” deviates from the wording of the law and the intent of Congress.   It is therefore not appropriate.

While the allowance for collecting “common” invertebrate fossils and “common” plant fossils remains permitted in the proposed regulations, the clumsy attempt to further define the common species only further confuses the situation. The developers of the proposed BLM regulations attempt to explain:

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 …………

Since so many of the Bureau’s invertebrate paleontology resources are most often managed by geologists and archeologists. I have little confidence that many of those personnel will have the time or the inclination to become knowledgeable in this discipline to make informed decisions about which fossil invertebrates or plants are common or not. Additionally, without such knowledge, those personnel would be unable to competently issue permits for collection of uncommon species and I would question their ability to issue permits and manage collection data as required for professional invertebrate paleontology collection applications. Problems have occurred in just such situations under less stringent regulations.

Approximately eight years ago, Dr. Fred Sundberg (PhD) applied for a permit to collect invertebrate fossils for research in the Tonopah Resource Area of the Battle Mountain District. As in many disciplines the number of graduates produced by universities exceeds the number of jobs available and Dr. Sundberg has made a living teaching high school biology for 25 years. Despite extensive field experience, a masters, a PhD, nine publications in the Journal of Paleontology, Palaeontology, Paleobiology, and Lethaia, as well as presentations at international travel and attendance at numerous professional meetings Dr. Sundberg was denied a permit by the resource area geologist, largely because he is not affiliated with a university or museum. Understanding the casual collecting rules in the Tonopah Resource Area at the time, he could have collected as a hobby collector, since the local authority would not recognize his standing. In practice to make a finding that Dr. Sundberg had violated any rules the Bureau would have to admit that it erred in denying his permit application. However, Dr. Sundberg believed that he had no choice to abandon that effort and pursue collecting in another area where his standing was recognized. With the more stringent regulations proposed, can we be assured that viable science will be properly permitted?

If regional paleontologists will be assigned to develop lists of common or uncommon plants and invertebrates, I have to ask how many are trained invertebrate paleontologists. This may seem like nit-picking, but all M.D.s are medical doctors, but not all M.D.s are vascular surgeons or pediatric oncologists. I would surmise that none of the federal regional paleontologists are so qualified. Of equal importance is whether regional and local paleontologists will be afforded a reasonable amount of time to develop such lists as the proposed regulations require. It has been my experience that regulation developers rarely include budget and personnel time considerations.

I reiterate that I have no confidence that most federal employees currently managing invertebrate paleontology can fairly determine what specimens are either common or uncommon.

I have been collecting for more than 15 years. I have attended conferences with professional invertebrate paleontologists and read hundreds of professional papers. Yet I find my own knowledge limited. There have been few times in the field where I can determine immediately that I have collected something “uncommon” or rare. Usually the specimen must be properly prepared and then may take weeks or months of studying literature to properly identify. If I have difficulty identifying specimens offhand, how will commonality be determined by various agencies and districts or resource areas?

We have to be careful to recognize that if a species is determined to be and listed as uncommon its actual abundance can even be suppressed by this determination, as collecting in certain areas are likely to be avoided.

Additionally, invertebrate fossil species are often only identified from parts. Parts may be known to be common in a scientific context. Are we to assume that partial or complete specimens of these types of common species would require a permit? I am aware of one USGS publication within which dozens species were almost completely described from parts. However, in the ensuing years a great number of species have been found partially or fully articulated. Errors were made in descriptions in the original publication, but no invertebrate paleontologist has yet made the appropriate corrections. Should the BLM make a determination from the species described in the original publication that complete specimens of most of these species are uncommon or rare, they would be incorrect.

Since there is no scientific definition of common, the most likely science-based method to determine which fossils are common is a literature search of the fossil species occurring on BLM lands. In the interest of thoroughness and correctness, such searches must go beyond BLM lands to more accurately assess actual commonality or rareness of species.

Even a literature review relies upon whether random academics have an interest in some aspect of one or more species. That research may or may not involve a discussion of a species’ commonality or rarity.

There is also the chance that a species may be scientifically lumped or split into various subspecies. Some of these subspecies have been so named 100 years ago by early invertebrate paleontologists, such as Dr. Charles Resser, who many times designated new species by spatial distances, rather than physical differences. Sometimes the spatial distances were as small as 21 miles.

Much of the morass that Resser and others created by has not been untangled 90 years later. So will the BLM and USFS personnel find that the Resser’s trilobite Albertella sampsoni can be specifically differentiated from Albertella helena? How will BLM personnel make that determination? Will such determinations be valid without publication in scientific publications and vetting according to scientific organizations and forums? How will the Bureau handle conflicting determinations between various districts and adjacent agencies? Any such determinations could easily be open to contest as of arbitrary and capricious rulings.

If I suspect a specimen might be uncommon these regulations require that I leave it in place and apply for a permit to collect it. Shall I lay it on the ground where it may be surface collected by a less knowledgeable collector without penalty, or am I to rebury it and possibly lose it to science?

To a great degree, I am frustrated that these regulations reflect a complete lack of understanding of the role of amateur paleontologists in discovery and research. Amateurs or casual collectors are often an invaluable resource to the professionals. Now that link is being intentionally severed for no good purpose.

Is science being properly served here? What happens to a fossil that is not on the common list and therefore cannot be collected by a casual collector? If they are an average collector, they will collect the specimen because they lack the ability to identify if it is common or not. So the weight of the regulations is directed at the “knowledgeable” collector.

The “knowledgeable” collector must not collect the specimen and must leave it in the field. The specimen would then be subject to deterioration due to weather. Varying types and compositions of rock deteriorate at different rates. I do not consider such direction to be wise. More than invertebrate paleontologists, vertebrate paleontologists are exposed to the vagaries of natural decay of exposed specimens. More thought and consideration should have resulted in better protections for specimens if science was the regulatory developers’ primary concern.

Let us consider that an uncommon or rare specimen has been discovered in the field by a “knowledgeable” collector. The specimen has been protected and left at the point of discovery. A reasonable person would understand from reading the proposed regulations that the specimen can only be collected with a permit and only a professional invertebrate paleontologist can obtain a permit to collect for research under these rules.

Even if BLM personnel can be authorized to collect the specimen, where will it be stored? I have seen BLM warehouses and storage facilities crammed to the rafters with innumerable boxes and virtually inaccessible boxes of paperwork. Land use plans, wilderness plans, EISs, EAs, categorical exclusions and more. The federal agencies are largely ill-prepared to store and curate more than a minor amount of paleontological specimens. Even an approved museum or repository has limited space for these resources. What happens to uncommon or rare specimens that cannot be placed in an approved facility?

So while the proposed regulations might appear comprehensive and reasonable, there are vast “holes” in the rules that were not considered. In other ways, the rules are questionable in their fairness and legality.

Discovery of the uncommon is perhaps the strong point of amateur and casual collectors of invertebrate fossils. We have far more free time than most professionals to direct into this hobby. This leads to far more exploration than academic professionals are capable of in the limited field time they are afforded by their institutions. Under the proposed regulations federal agencies will require professionals to have specific plans before permitting field collections, further curtailing their ability to explore and discover. Clearly these proposed regulations should be specific to only certain aspects of paleontology and not stand to inhibit genuine progress with respect to invertebrate paleontology.

I strongly protest the concept of various federal employees, most with limited understanding of invertebrate paleontology determining who might qualify as a knowledgeable collector, as in:

“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.”

and

“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.”

Here, the BLM is setting itself up for severe inconsistencies in application of the proposed regulations across resource areas, districts, states and nationally.

I like to think that I am knowledgeable, however, I have received no formal training. How is the federal government to determine that I am knowledgeable? Shall I be expected to be familiar with all trilobites, anomalocaridids, brachiopods, eocrinoids, graptolites, etc.? Since there is no discussion of qualifications for various categories of collectors, it is not clear how or even who will be responsible for making the determinations.

Several years ago, I found two odd specimens that had been excavated, but not collected by another. I took the piece home, but was unable to identify them. The specimen sat in my front yard in ignominy until I assisted a university-based researcher with field work several years later. The professional had recently published a paper describing a suite of three species which had been previously overlooked. I took my “yard” specimens to the professional later and they turned out to be the first complete specimens of one of the species his paper had described. I gave him the piece, as well as several specimens of common species which were better examples of their type than existed in his university’s collection. Under the proposed regulations and the USFS existing regulations, this cooperation in the interest of science would be illegal.

Not only that, but if I had been required to obtain a permit in that instance, how would the BLM archeologist make a reasonable determination of commonality since it had yet to be described? Was my “yard” specimen rare? Not if you know what level to excavate.

These proposed regulations fail on many levels regarding benefitting science. I can find no allowances for the disposal of amateur or hobby collections. Children or grandchildren often do not appreciate the same hobbies as their parents and grandparents. Since it is already illegal to “buy, sell, barter or trade” specimens collected from federal lands, and non-professional collectors would be barred by these proposed from donating collections to professional paleontologist or even approved repository, such collections could only be thrown in the trash, providing a benefit to no one. As such, how do these proposed regulations serve the best interest of the public and science as required in the PRPA? They clearly do not serve those purposes and must not be enacted in their current form.

Since the true scientific value of most collections are limited, the proposed regulations should allow for disposal of common invertebrate specimens to schools and school districts for appropriate distribution to science classes or even state and federal visitor centers where appropriate.

I oppose the proposed regulations new interpretation of surface disturbance. In order for the new rules to be consist with existing policies regarding “negligible disturbance” the area disturbed would have to be five acres, not the one cubic meter proposed. In fact, the proposed regulations have nothing to do with the long used BLM Visual Resource Management (VRM) Classes to determine landscape-level management of Bureau lands. The rules severely conflict with existing Bureau-wide management.

Proposed § 49.810(a)(3) would clarify that “negligible disturbance” for casual collecting means little or no change to the surface of the land, and minimal or no effect to natural and cultural resources. This proposed definition would specify that in no circumstance may the surface disturbance exceed 1 square yard (3 feet by 3 feet) per individual collector; that in cases of multiple collectors each square yard of surface disturbance must be separated by at least 10 feet; and that all areas of surface disturbance must be backfilled with the material that was removed in order to render the disturbance substantially unnoticeable to the casual observer. The reason for using the “1 square yard” maximum is that this would be similar to longstanding BLM practice, and such consistency is encouraged by PRPA.

The above rationalization for the proposed changes clearly directs that all BLM lands will now fall into VRM Class I relating to surface disturbance for fossil invertebrate collecting. The BLMM VRM standards clearly delineate:

  • Class I Objective: To preserve the existing character of the landscape. The level of change to the characteristic landscape should be very low and must not attract attention
  • Class II Objective: To retain the existing character of the landscape. The level of change to the characteristic landscape should be low
  • Class III Objective: To partially retain the existing character of the landscape. The level of change to the characteristic landscape should be moderate.
  • Class IV Objective: To provide for management activities which require major modification of the existing character of the landscape. The level of change to the characteristic landscape can be high.

What is most alarming, is that this Bureau-wide determination is not applied to any other non-consumptive or recreational pursuit on multiple use lands. VRM Class I is most often used by the BLM for wilderness, wilderness study areas and national recreation areas, certainly not random multiple use lands. Even the more appropriate VRM Class II, would not justify the excessive restrictions proposed for casual collectors on BLM lands. The federal agencies involved in analyzing the proposed regulations make no compelling argument for this glaring inconsistency.

Although I do not completely disagree with limiting disclosure of some paleontological resource discoveries by professionals, I protest the blanket coverage of all of these resources. Some scientific journals and public grants require this information to be published. Also, at a time when significant science is doubted by a large portion of the general population, this is no time to become openly and brazenly secretive about any subjects of public interest. The need for secrecy of any locality should be a rare collaborative decision of the appropriate professional or undergraduate paleontologist and representatives of the federal land management agency.

Not only is it unclear the effects of the proposed regulations will have on undergraduates involved in pursuit of a thesis, it is clear that the freedom of scientists and potential scientists is imperiled by these rules.

From my limited understanding of museums and universities, I do not see how a reasonable person could expect ALL paleontological resources collected from federal lands by professional invertebrate paleontologists to be deposited in repositories approved by the federal government. It is clear that regulation proponents do not understand the extent of the scientific material collected to support discoveries or the advancement of knowledge, nor do they comprehend how much of that material will be useful in an open scientific investigation. My observations have been that research is often similar to searching for a needle in a haystack. Under the proposed regulations, not only would invertebrate fossil researchers have to report the “needle,” but would also be responsible for reporting and finding space for common paleontological material, or in this case, the “haystack.”

Perhaps the worst determination for amateur or casual collectors in these proposed regulations is “reasonable amount” as stated in the federal analysis below:

Proposed § 49.810(a)(2) would establish ‘‘reasonable amount’’ for casual collecting as 25 pounds per day per collector, not to exceed 100 pounds per year per collector. This proposed definition would also clarify that pooling of multiple daily amounts by one or more collectors to obtain pieces in excess of 25 pounds is not allowed. The bureaus determined that the 25 pounds per day per collector, and the 100 pounds per year per collector, are reasonable amounts based on BLM’s long experience with the collecting of petrified wood and other fossils from BLM lands before PRPA was enacted.

I feel obligated to point out that the wording here mirrors the USFS regulatory wording which was not developed with any mention of experience with or understanding of petrified wood collecting. As such, the BLM is falsifying its justification for proposing these limitations.

The explanation of the proposed regulation is also inaccurate. While referencing 25 pounds in defining a daily limit, the BLM ignore the existing fact that it allows collection of one additional piece of petrified wood. The yearly limit of petrified wood is also 250 pounds, not 100 pounds, as proposed for common invertebrate fossils. Additionally, petrified wood pieces are the “fossil” in their entirety. Fossil invertebrates are usually only a small part of the weight of the shale or rock on which or within which they are found. Therefore, invertebrate fossils and petrified wood are not comparable. The daily limit should be no less than 100 pounds and an annual limit of 1,000 pounds would be more realistic.

The PRPA limits casual collecting to non-motorized hand tools. I concur, as this has long been prohibited.   However, perhaps the most ridiculous part of the USFS regulations and the proposed BLM regulations is further restricting the use of tools by stating “These tools must be small, such as a geologic hammer, trowel, or sieve;”. It is clear from this restriction that not only have the proponents not been involved in casual collecting, but that their goal is to make it so difficult that it is no longer practical. If the proposed regulations are implemented it will be illegal to use a hand shovel or a pick, commonly used tools at the present. This is an example of gross regulatory over-reach.

All research work done on fossils on public lands now requires a permit. This includes research that does not involve the physical collection of fossils.

The proposed permitting requirements are clearly similar to those written for large scale vertebrate paleontological research projects, as are entirely inappropriate for the type of small scale research projects typically associated with invertebrate paleontology. The restrictions and bureaucratic paperwork will make such research unnecessarily difficult and in some cases, Impractical. Surely this is not the intent of the PRPA.

I feel obligated to point out that at current staffing levels, it is unlikely that either the BLM or USFS personnel have the time and have a properly developed system to manage paleontology on their lands as appears to be mandated in the proposed regulations. Despite the lofty preservation goals of these proposed regulations, I am not aware of any federal land managers with sufficient “spare time” to deal with the proposed burdensome regulations, including law enforcement personnel who would be expected to enforce the regulations across the vast landscapes of our public lands.

In conclusion, the proposed regulations will virtually end casual collecting. The restrictions will also have a severe negative effect on scientific research regarding fossil invertebrates on federal lands. I cannot believe that this was the intent of Congress, much less the desire of serious professionals.

I encourage the Department of the Interior to delay the implementation of these proposed regulations and to work with the Department of Agriculture to rework its regulations regarding paleontology with emphasis on fossil invertebrates. There needs to be a less insular vetting and more working with the affected scientists and affected public. These regulations must be changed to become more in the interest of science and recreation on the multiple use lands that all Americans have a right to enjoy and use in a reasonable manner.

Respectfully,

Craig Stevenson

 

Cc:

Office of the Secretary of the Interior

Office of the Secretary of Agriculture

Senator Dean Heller

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto

Representative Reuben Kihuen

Highlighted Comment: Carlton Brett, World Renown Stratigrapher & Paleontologist

Highlighted Comment: Carlton Brett, World Renown Stratigrapher & Paleontologist

Here is another great comment on the proposed PRPA regulations that was written by Carlton Brett.  He is world renowned for his work in stratigraphy and invertebrate paleontology.  His comments focus on how the enormous, negative impacts these regulations would have on research and the relationship between amateur collectors and professional researchers.

Brett-Letter
Highlighted Comment: Linda McCall, President North Carolina Fossil Club

Highlighted Comment: Linda McCall, President North Carolina Fossil Club

Below is the text of an exceptionally well written comment to the regulations by Linda McCall, President of the North Carolina Fossil Club.  It may provide some inspiration and talking points for your own comments but  please do not resubmit as your own comment or copy & paste.  Remember we need as many constructive, public comments as possible, please post your own on the regulations.

PRPA_Comments_Linda_McCall (2)
Highlighted Comment: Walter Stein of PaleoAdventures

Highlighted Comment: Walter Stein of PaleoAdventures

Walter W. Stein
PaleoAdventures
January 17th, 2017

RE: The Paleontological Resources Preservation Act (PRPA) and the Proposed Rule “Paleontological Resources Preservation” for BLM, BOR,NPS, and FWS

Dear committee members, government officials, members of the paleontological community and concerned citizens:

I am writing to express my concerns regarding the new proposed rules for the management of paleontological resources on our shared federal lands. While I thank the scientific community and the various bureaus for their hard work, dedication and passion for preserving our ancient history, I fear that these new regulations need to be revised and rewritten. I would argue that these new, proposed regulations exceed the original intent and mandate of the PRPA, while unfortunately falling short of its noble goals.

The following elements of the proposal are deeply troubling:

1) The proposed rule essentially treats archeological remains, vertebrate paleontological remains and invertebrate paleontological remains as moral equivalents, to be judged and managed in a similar fashion. The authors and supporters of this rule are clearly operating on the underlying philosophy that archeology, vertebrate paleontology and invertebrate paleontology are all one and the same, when the three studies are actually quite different in scope, methodology, and ethics.

Archeological remains have a cultural and historical importance and great care should be taken to account for this. Respect must be given to these sites and to the Native American descendants who often live near these areas. While it is clearly unethical to casually dig up the remains of human ancestors, it is NOT unethical to dig up the remains of extinct organisms that lived in this area long before man was smart enough to draw lines on a map. Ammonites, trilobites, corals, plant fossils, pelecypods, gastropods, fossil fish, fossil mammals and yes, even dinosaur bones are not cultural artifacts. Their closest living relatives have neither the will nor intellect to care. They are geological specimens, important to understanding the history of the Earth, yes, but nothing more. Paleontological resources are not archeological resources and they should not be treated as such. Management policies should reflect those differences.

Likewise, vertebrate fossils are often more rare, more geographically isolated and are more difficult to excavate than invertebrate and plant fossils. Management policies should reflect this. While it might be unethical for someone to come along and pull a vertebra from an otherwise complete dinosaur skeleton, it is not unethical for someone to collect a single brachiopod from a layer containing thousands of brachiopods or a shark tooth from a sandstone containing thousands of shark teeth. While it may require more advanced training (notice I did not say “advanced degree”) to properly excavate and document a vertebrate skeleton, it does not require an advanced degree to pick up a weathered out trilobite from the surface of a barren landscape few people will ever dare to visit. This means that the management styles for these broad classifications of resources must be different. As written, the proposed rule lumps invertebrate collection within the same broad management plan as vertebrate collection.

It is also very important to remember, that these fossils do not come out of the ground with specimen tags. In most cases, particularly with invertebrates, it is impossible to determine whether or not a specimen is rare or significant in the field. It often requires an abundance of fossil preparation and hours of research in the lab to make this determination. Amateur and avocational collectors should be able to collect any invertebrate or plant fossils they find without fear of fines or imprisonment.

SUGGESTION: I would respectfully suggest that you have two completely different sets of proposed rules. One for vertebrate remains which should have tighter permit requirements and one for invertebrate and plant remains which should have little to no permit requirements.

Another option would be to have a casual collection permit and report system for BLM lands, similar to that maintained by the state of Florida (https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/index.php/vertpaleo/amateur-collector/fossil-permit/) for common vertebrates, invertebrates and plants. This would be the most appropriate methodology to encourage casual collecting and reporting on common AND rare species/locales. This encourages casual collection and reporting rather than discouraging it. More boots on the ground mean more discoveries, more science, more cooperation between avocationalists and academics, free and open research, and more people out there watching for and reporting on illegal activity.

2) The rule grants too much authority to the “authorized officer”. As written, the rule grants to the authorized officer, the power, at their sole discretion and subjectivity, to determine what constitutes: A) a “common” or “rare” fossil; B) what constitutes a “negligible disturbance”; C) When and where collections can take place; D) If a section of land will be open to casual collecting or shut down; E) which repositories receive federal approval; F) which collections can be transferred to working collections or non museum collections; and G) Whether or not a collection still is regarded as having paleontological interest and thus still considered to be “paleontological resource” 49.210 as defined.

This ambiguity and lack of detail will cause all manner of troubles with management of these resources. Who is this oft mentioned “authorized officer”? Is there just one of them for each bureau or are there multiple authorized officers in each bureau for each region? What is their criteria for employment? How is their work monitored and reviewed? Do they have the budget and manpower to achieve these tasks? Is the authority granted herein enforceable and actionable or does the situation set the authorized officer(s) up for failure and thus calls for more draconian measures in the future?

One of the key elements of the PRPA was that “casual collecting” by amateurs, avocationalists and local educators was still allowed and encouraged. As written, the proposed rule fails to do this. In fact, it does just the opposite. The ambiguity introduced by the proposed rule imparts an element of risk on the part of every collector whether they are trained academics or enthusiastic amateurs. The proposed rule stifles paleontology by imposing a high degree of risk on the part of the collector. It says that a “casual collector” should “err to the side of caution” when deciding what to pick up and what to leave in the ground. It does this without ever defining what constitutes a common fossil and what constitutes a rare one. This places the sole burden on the collector to make that call, rather than the authorized federal agent whose really the only one authorized to determine that. Given the penalties suggested (high fines and possibly five years in jail for removing a potentially rare fossil), this imposes high risk on the collector. The rule even points out that avocationalists and professionals “WILL be held to a higher standard”, though this is also never defined! If I was an avocationalist or an invertebrate or plant researcher I don’t think that I would pick up anything on public land if this rule passes, as the risk exceeds the reward. Paleontology on public lands will effectively become the endeavor of only a select few professionals in the approved loop. I don’t think that is what the PRPA intended.

SUGGESTION: Clarify specifically what constitutes a “common fossil” and what is a “rare” or “scientifically significant” one. Finally agree upon a working definition for these. This could be as simple as “all invertebrate and plant fossils are considered common until proven otherwise and may be casually collected for non commercial personal use…”, or as specific as providing a federal webpage that specifies which families or genera of ancient life are considered “too rare” for casual collection. If found, these rare specimens would need to be turned over to the authorized agents as soon as possible. This could be similar in scope to the endangered species list maintained by the US fish and wildlife service. https://www.fws.gov/endangered/

If it is decided that a web page would be best, it would need to be updated annually and it would be the responsibility of collectors to know which specimens could be kept and which couldn’t. In order to assist in identifications, the list would possibly need a photographic field guide, complete with images, measurement data, brief descriptions and geographic or geologic range data in the same vein as the endangered species list mentioned above. It would also be highly beneficial if this guide included a section for “permit eligible” researchers who were interested in publishing on those specimens, to add additional notes, images and their personal contact information.

The “rare” or “off limits” list, would certainly be difficult to maintain, but it would solve much of the current ambiguity in the law. It would also have the benefit of being very flexible, allowing for local variations and needs. The list could apply for all federal lands or it could be altered for different states, regions or rock formations as determined by the authorized agents. For example: In one rock formation crinoid stems might be found in every rock fragment and perfectly reasonable to casually collect. However, in that same rock formation a plate of crinoid calyxes from the same species might be incredibly rare and restricted to collection by academics, by permit only. In one state shark teeth, or dinosaur bone fragments might be quite plentiful, but in another highly restricted. It makes for flexible, local regulation based on the reality of the situation rather than either a broad brush or an ambiguous one. This would be no different than a fisherman going into a river and knowing that they can keep up to three, 14 inch brook trout/day, but need to throw back any sturgeon of any size that takes the bait. This takes the ambiguity and subjectivity out of the situation, setting the rules in concrete each year, while still allowing the authorized officers to determine what is rare and what isn’t based on new data or new resource protection needs.

3) Management of paleontological resources are done with complete confidentiality outside of public scrutiny. 49.75 (1) and 49.25. As written, the rule gives authority to the authorized officer to make determinations on who gets permits, when and where fossil collecting can take place, which repositories are acceptable and which are not, etc. etc. etc.. It also specifies that the locations and nature of all these permitted collecting sites are kept entirely confidential unless permission is granted by the authorized officer. Aside from the fact that this is a possible freedom of speech issue, against the intent of the Freedom of Information Act, AND contrary to good science and the accurate reporting of contextual data, my question is… who is watching the watchers?

Effective governance REQUIRES supervision by a concerned populace. The people need to know if these resources are being managed correctly and efficiently. We can not simply sit back and take your word for it. We need to know how many sites are out there and when and if permits are being issued? Are the specimens being excavated or are they left to rot? How long does the permit process take? How much does the average site cost to maintain and police? How successful are those policing methods? Where are the fossils collected being curated? How often are those organizations reviewed? What organizations are excavating and which ones aren’t? etc. etc. etc. How can we accurately determine any of this if the site locations and field data regarding them are held confidential? How can we do this if key statistical data is withheld?

More importantly, how can we judge any scientific research done on these lands if key information like location, stratigraphy etc. is kept secret? If I am an amateur doing a paper on fossils in a public repository that were collected on BLM lands will I be given that contextual data, or am I not approved unless I’m in the employ of a federally approved repository? What if I’ve sold fossils in the past and want to have access to contextual information for valid educational or research purposes? I’d be surprised if any avocationalists, independents or commercial paleontologists will meet these elitist requirements. Again, this limits the number of people that are “acceptable” when it comes to paleontological research restricting research and collection to a select few in the approved loop.

I understand that the goal is to hide sensitive sites from poachers and vandals, but this strategy of confidentiality has not worked in the past and it will not work in the future. I am an independent, commercial paleontologist. By law, I can only work on private land, and that is perfectly fine by me! As a result, we contact local ranchers and obtain written contracts to work the private land. I have worked one of those ranches now for over ten years. In that time, as part of our educational mission, we have taken over 1500 guests and researchers out to visit our main quarry. Over 1500 people know exactly where this site is! Others can see the location on Google Earth. We are completely open with the site location and freely reveal map data, photos, videos, documentation, site logs, etc. for guests and scientists to review upon request. In all that time, I have NEVER had a single person trespass on the land, vandalize the sites, contact the land owner behind my back or attempt to steal the contract. Why? Its simple… everyone knows who is controlling it. Everyone knows that the site is well monitored by myself and the land owner. It’s protected and that I am managing it. Should anyone ever try to vandalize the property or undermine my contract there would be legal and ethical consequences. They might face jail time if caught or face damage to their reputation if they tried to weasel in. It also means that I need to be on MY best behavior and treat my land owner with the highest level of care and respect. All of this could certainly change overnight (knock on wood), but so far openness and honesty has been the best protection; sunlight the best disinfectant.

On public lands, however, there is openness in access (leading to accidental discovery and vandalism), but no openness in information. The general public has no idea how many fossil locations are on public land or whether or not they are efficiently being collected and studied or left to wither and decay. We have no empirical data regarding vandalism- only allegorical stories. We have no way to independently verify reports to determine what is damaged, the extent of that damage or the intent (commercial reasons, accidental reasons, malicious vandalism, etc.) of the people responsible for the damage. The policy in the past has been to keep locations confidential. To rebury and forget. To hope no one stumbles on a site until the permit process (the following season or seasons) is complete. So far this has not worked. Instead of learning from this mistake and taking this wonderful opportunity to address it, the authors of this rule have double downed with the same failed policy.

SUGGESTION: Do the opposite. Remove the confidentially requirements and publicly mark where sensitive sites are located and who has the current permit. This should be done on BLM maps as well as marked in the field itself. Sites should be mapped, cordoned off, posted with signs and monitored using motion cameras, paid BLM agents and volunteers. Notices outlining penalties for tampering with the site should be clearly marked, both on site and any maps. These areas would then be off limits to everyone not on the permit. There is no ambiguity in this case. No one can claim ignorance or accident should they touch the site. Conversely, no one can claim “proper management” if the site is a mess, never monitored or policed or never excavated. This also will show legislators the extent and importance of the fossils on federal and might help the BLM raise capital to effectively hire more staff to better protect the resource.

4) Casual collecting only allowed on “certain lands”. 49.40 – 49.5 (a)? The proposed rule states in several sections that the “authorized officer may restrict access to an area or close it off from casual collecting”, but does not outline: a) how this is determined, b) if there is a review and comment period, c) if and how people can petition to change that designation, d) when this is done/reviewed and e) how the public is notified (marked in the field, on maps, at the office, on a website). Again, all liability seems to rest upon the collector to know an authorized officer’s determinations with no liability for the authorized officer to disclose or relate this to the public. I can foresee a situation where an amateur collector may have checked one year on the legality of hunting in an area, only to come back in subsequent days, weeks, or years without checking and suddenly find themselves breaking the law. There is also the potential problem of older collections from these sites, that appear to be illegal, even though they were collected prior to the change. AND lets not forget the possibility of an authorized officer, with an axe to grind, cutting off as many areas as they can, because they can. This is not in the spirit of the PRPA and there needs to be some oversight. Good laws protect everyone. This law only protects the authorized officer.

SUGGESTION: Clarify and elaborate on the rule here to prevent future issues. Outline a public review process with notification requirements for any changes to land status.

5) Even research without collection requires a permit 49.50 (b). This section, which requires a permit to conduct research on public lands, is most likely, a violation of the First Amendment and the right to free speech. Research that does not involve collection should never require a permit! Research that involves fossil plants, invertebrates and/or minimal disturbance should never require a permit from the government. Research that attempts to measure stratigraphy or geology of a public region, should NEVER require a permit.

SUGGESTION: It needs to be removed entirely.

6) No leeway for emergency powers. 49.50 (c) Provides no emergency powers to federal agents and employees to remove fossil resources, in the event of an emergency, without a permit. What if a fire or flood event hits an area and there is no time for authorized officers or conscientious collectors to report or beg for a permit? Someone should be exempted in a natural emergency without fear of imprisonment or fine if removal of a specimen is the only way to save the specimen.

SUGGESTION: Provide a separate clause that outlines situations where authorized agents and those they employ, or request assistance from, may collect a fossil resource that is under threat of natural disaster, vandalism, or destruction. Provide guidelines for temporary repository status without a permit.

7) Death of the collector provision. The proposed rule does not address what casual fossil collectors should do with their collections upon their death. Legal loopholes would exist if descendants of the collector decide to sell, trade or transfer the collection. By stating that collectors can keep fossils for their personal collections, but restrict them from selling, trading or transferring it, then the fossils are not really private property OR public property, but rather some ambiguous new classification of property.

SUGGESTION: Not sure how to fix this situation other than to allow these collections to be sold, traded or to require that they be donated to a working educational collection upon the collectors death. Either way, it will be very difficult and expensive, if not impossible, to police this.

8) Requirement of an advanced degree clause 49.60a.1. As written, it is impossible for an experienced amateur or avocationalist to receive a permit to collect scientifically significant vertebrates, invertebrates, or plant fossils. As written it is impossible for them to obtain a permit to conduct non-collection based research. I expected this rule for vertebrate specimens (though I disagree with it), which do require some advanced training to excavate and document correctly, but it is excessive, elitist and unnecessary when applying this standard to invertebrate specimens.

SUGGESTION: Please see my suggestions for a casual collector permit in section 1.

9) 49.75(3, 8) – “Not put at risk” or “protection from harm” clause. These phrases are not defined or clear here. As written, it makes permittees completely liable for anything that happens to the fossils during excavation, including accidental damage, theft, or vandalism.

Despite being responsible, they are apparently not authorized to fence off, post, or alter the site in “any” way. They must also (6) accept that other uses (hiking, biking, ATV racing, hunting, fishing, rockhounding, etc.) may occur in the same area and take steps to avoid or minimize conflict. Section 6 directly conflicts with section 3. Either they are responsible for protecting the site or they are responsible for keeping access open. I can not see how one can do both. This puts researchers in the uncomfortable position of having to defend their sites rather than the authorized officers who are trained for this and ultimately responsible. Permittees should be focused on research and authorized agents and officers should be responsible for protecting and monitoring the site.

Despite making the permittee responsible for the safety and security of the fossil resources under their permit, there is no mention of repercussions should they fail in this task. It does not outline how they are liable or what the penalties, if any, will be, if a site is damaged by guests and personnel under their watch.

SUGGESTION: Change the wording of 49.75 (3) to: “Permittee is responsible for maintaining a safe, secure and well organized site. They are responsible for any research associates, volunteers, or guests that they allow to visit the site. Any excavation or research conducted on site, under the permit must ultimately keep the fossils safe from harm. Failure to do so may result in the revocation of the permit. Authorized officers are ultimately responsible for the security of the site and keep any impact to other land uses to a minimum.”

10) What is a working collection? According to the definition, ” a working collection means a paleontological resource collections that are not intended for long term preservation and care as museum collections.” This sounds like a fantastic idea, but what are the rules governing these collections? If they are not stored at an approved federal repository, then where are they stored? Can they be given away? Traded? Sold? Disposed of in the garbage? Who decides who receives these working collections? Once transferred into a working collection, are they still “owned” by the US government? That is their legal status of title?

SUGGESTION: Provide a more detailed definition of this and a separate section involving the rules governing, care, disposal and distribution of these collections. This could be a great way to ensure public fossils are used in small local museums and small colleges that are not eligible for public repository status and K-12 classrooms that could use the specimens for education. Any distribution must also be fair and balanced.

11) 49.75 (14) The permittee is responsible for curation costs? Section 14 of this clause outlines monetary responsibilities of permit holders. The list includes things like: costs for excavation, data analysis, and report preparation, which are all logical financial costs incurred for any excavation/research project. Unfortunately, it also mentions curation costs in the language, which does NOT seem to be something that most researchers would be able to afford. Does this imply that permit holders are responsible for curation costs in perpetuity (even after their death!)? How would these costs be assessed? Collected? How many researchers will wish to take on this legal and financial burden? This paragraph assumes that the permit holder and the repository are always one and the same. Not sure if that is true. This needs to be reworded or clarified.

SUGGESTION: Curation expenses should be the responsibility of the federally approved repository that is willing to accept the collection.

12) 49.215.a11- The fossil prep clause – As written, “employees [of approved repositories] cannot take any action that results in collection encumbrance, seizure, theft, damage, or other issues.”

Fossil prep, however, can often be damaging to a fossil specimen and some research projects may, at times, lead to the destruction of a specimen (thin sections, acid etching, accidental drops, etc.) Are fossil preparators and conservationists going to be held liable for accidental damage to specimens or research that might lead to damage to the specimens. If so, what are the penalties and who is going to take this risk?

SUGGESTION: Could be a simple fix by removing the word “damage” or changing it to “willful damage”. If not, there should be a separate clause that outlines policies and procedures for fossil prep and destructive research and/or penalties on the repository should damage occur beyond the scope of the agreed upon research plan.

13) 49.300 b/c. The “should have known” clauseIn the United States fossils collected from private lands can be bought, sold, traded, bartered, etc. as private property at the sole discretion of the property owner. The PRPA does not in any way shape or form outlaw fossil collecting on private land and this is a very VERY good thing. However, the same fossils that can be found on private land are often found on public land and often just on the other side of the fence. This poses a problem for land regulators AND collectors, because once a specimen is removed from public land it is nearly impossible to know for certain its place of origin beyond the level of rock formation.

Sometimes a fossil that was illegally removed from public lands will wind up in the commercial market. This is very unfortunate and every effort must be made to prevent theft and vandalism of these wonderful fossil resources. Section 49.300 b and c, however, penalize and target unaware buyers and sellers of fossils who, through no fault of their own, may accidentally purchase an illegal specimen, resell or trade an illegal specimen, transport an illegal specimen, or work with/on an illegal specimen.

For example: I will occasionally take on contract fossil jobs to help supplement my income. My clients often buy fossils on the open market and then have me prepare them. I will usually, make my clients sign a waiver stating that they are guaranteeing that the specimen was legally and ethically collected and that any claims against this are the sole responsibility of the client. Unless there is some sort of indication from the buyer that it is illegal though, I would have no scientific way of knowing that a fossil was illegally removed. Unfortunately, according to these proposed rules, I would be just as guilty as the vandal and thief for preparing, transporting and working on it.

SUGGESTION: The phrase “should have known” should be removed.

14) “Negligible Disturbance restricted to 1 x 1 yard square excavations? If any of the language in this rule indicates that it was written by archeologists (or at the very minimum vertebrate Quaternary specialists), with no understanding of Mesozoic or Paleozoic age invertebrate digs, this is it. I have been professionally excavating vertebrate specimens now for over 20 years. I’ve worked on over 30 major specimens and dozens of minor ones. I’ve worked on Mesozoic ammonites, and pelecypods out west and Paleozoic crinoids, trilobites, brachiopods, etc. out east. The number of locations where the sediment was soft enough to excavate in neat 1 x 1 yard grids I could count on one hand. Paleontological resources can be found in all manor of sedimentary rocks where neat grids are not practical nor possible. Dense sandstones, limestones, silicified shales, conglomerates, etc., where many plant and invertebrate fossils can be found, are often too hard for neat square excavations. These often break in irregular fashion impossible for neat rows and grids. Grid excavations are fantastic for soft, unconsolidated rocks, and may be fine for Quaternary vertebrates in Florida and Nebraska, but won’t work for much beyond that.

Also… the specific rule states this: “In no circumstance may the surface disturbance exceed one square yard”. Are you telling me that in all your paleontological knowledge you can think of NO circumstance that might require a collector to dig a larger excavation? I can think of multiple, non-permit requiring, reasons why this might be necessary, including but not limited to: a) removal of overburden, b) the specimen is larger than three feet (common ammonites like Placenticeras or Calycoceras, petrified wood, large plates of fossil plants and invertebrates all can be quite large and breaking them into smaller pieces is ludicrous and contrary to preservation goals), c) work begins on a smaller specimen which leads to a larger one that is beyond the boundaries of the excavation, d) The rock breaks in an irregular fashion exceeding the maximum dimensions, etc. etc.

This one line basically says that anything other than picking up weathered scraps is now banned on public lands. If that is the goal and the intent, then please just say that.

SUGGESTION: Please remove this section entirely and replace with something similar to: “negligible disturbance means low impact excavations completed without the use of any power tools or heavy equipment.” If necessary to add some quantification then perhaps: ” not to exceed a maximum depth of 1 meter and width of 2 meters”. Any excavations beyond this will require a permit.” Remove the separation between diggers otherwise you will have gopher holes all over the place. Also, please use meters not yards as the standard unit of measurement.

In summary… the protection of fossils on our shared public lands is an issue where all sides should be on the same team. We all want to share, protect and work with America’s fossil treasures and we can and we should. Working together, under a clear, well thought out, management plan, we can ensure that scientifically significant specimens go into a public repository, while at the same time the rights of rockhounds and fossil hunters to enjoy their hobby can be protected. The PRPA is not perfect, but it is a step in that direction. These rules as written, however, require significant revisions to ensure that all sides are being represented.

You have, if you choose to accept it, an army of ready and willing volunteers, with eyes and boots on the ground, to help discover, excavate, research and protect our wonderful fossil resources. It is now up to you to decide whether you wish to accept that help or disenfranchise those who offer their passions for free.

Thank you for allowing this forum and the time to express our views on this very important subject!

Sincerely,

Walter W. Stein

Paleontological Resources Preservation Act and Permitting – A Misadventure

Paleontological Resources Preservation Act and Permitting – A Misadventure

Note: The author of this article has chosen to remain anonymous because their job requires daily interactions with the BLM, Forest Service and other agencies involved.


Some of you may already know me. I am a citizen scientist. I have stacks of rocks and dirt in bins and bags. I geek out on crinoids. I love pulling my hand lens out to show someone the wonder of serrations. I have a rock hammer in every vehicle and shale chips on the floor mats. It all started with trilobites in the rocks of a waterfall in Jacksonburg, Ohio, where I was a little farm girl. But here’s the thing- I tried very hard to be one of the lucky few that gets to sit in the ivy coated, brick buildings of academia, looking at the important stuff. What I learned, after packing my hatchback with camping gear and heading out west for a 4 month study of Sustainable Development, is that the wonders of paleontology can and should always be available to EVERYONE. The problem is, the systems in place to manage our contributions are overwhelmed and often closed to all but those in the highest positions.

I was very fortunate. I had a paleontology professor that believed that everyone could be a scientist. He championed my journey to learn what it takes to search, find, and study dinosaurs- on a very tight budget. I made incredible friends who gave me access to private land and shared their knowledge. Here are some things I learned along the way that pertain to the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act (PRPA).

Fossil collection in academia is highly competitive and very difficult to secure funding. Institutions must find and then fund their digs after a lengthy application processes. I visited the Burpee Quarry in Hanksville, UT, for instance. A kind site manager explained to me that no, they can’t take volunteer diggers, because each person there was paying HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS A DAY to be there. This is so the dig can be funded. There is an academic process for permit submission, and typically only institutions with deep pockets can ever break ground. Top-tier employees at Federal agencies get to select who extracts the fossils. It doesn’t necessarily matter who found them. There are countless fossil treasures eroding away, that no museum or college wants, as well as those that would be considered off-limits by PRPA.

There is a huge volume of reported fossil discoveries, but the Federal agencies have allocated few resources to following up and assess them. The BLM and Forest Service get their budgets cut, which means the personnel in the local offices have less time to follow up on that unusual rock that someone reported as seeing in some wash. I made an appointment with the generous BLM folks at a regional office, and learned that while there are many really amazing discoveries made, there is also a huge backlog of reported finds that have not been investigated, and many of which never will. Not to mention potential discoveries made during oil exploration, mineral extraction, coal mining, a new road…these places have to be checked out by designated professionals. Unless a giant professional Federal workforce is funded by the taxpayer and devoted to assessing the reports made by the public…. there is no way to follow through with many basic tenants of the PRPA.

To get a permit to extract a fossil and study it, you must have it stored in an approved repository. This is probably the most impossible aspect of the permitting process. From my experience, these repositories are already overtaxed and do not have the resources to store or curate what is already being found. I went to a college consortium with its own fossil museum, and had a professor that advocated for me to store a six inch piece of dinosaur bone (collected on private land) that showed signs of blood vessel preservation and still, I could not find a repository. No room. I didn’t even get responses from some museums. Consequently, this renders the task of getting “less important” finds into a repository, nearly impossible. Really, if it’s not a new species or growth form, no one seemed interested in giving up the space.

Editors note: This is going to be one of the aspects of the permitting process which will kill off the majority of invertebrate and plant fossil research currently done on public lands. EVERY fossil collected during the course of research needs to be stored at an approved repository and curated to specific standards. This includes, every brachiopod, every conodont sample, the thousands of trilobite fragments collected which later prove not relevant to the research.

The approved repository needs to be identified before a permit is issued.  This is often before it is even known exactly what will be found and stored there. There is a ton of paper work and time involved for everyone, the researcher, the repository, and the staff of the agencies. The limited number of approved repositories do not have the space or resources to manage the amount of invertebrate and plant material currently collected during research.  It is many times the number of vertebrate specimens they currently must handle.  Yet, the Economic Impact Statement claims this additional requirement will have no negligible cost impact on approved repositories, huh?

I understand the importance of trusting the well-studied PhD- but we also live in an age where knowledge is at our fingertips, and people who were not fortunate enough to have the time or money for a doctorate, can be knowledgeable, persistent, gifted, and lucky. I had a dinosaur bone from private land, with a piece of it thin-sectioned and showing possible blood vessels- and I couldn’t get through the first basic steps needed to publish on my discovery. Also, I graduated with no financial means to enter grad school. I spent weeks backpacking the Utah desert looking for exposures of that same layer and the treasure trove of bones discussed in local circles. And you know what- I think I found it. But by then, I had learned, that even if I found those bones, I would probably never be able to get them out of the ground. Best to walk away with clean conscience, than deal with the futility of red tape. The BLM or Forest Service decides which well-funded institution gets to extract the bones. The associated professors choose their own students and colleagues to do the extraction. THIS IS THE SYSTEM ABOUT TO BE INSTITUTED FOR ALL FOSSILS, NOT JUST VERTEBRATE MATERIAL.

The new PRPA regulations would make a learning adventure like mine: backpacking and collecting fossils to bring back to college for study…practically impossible. I collected all kinds of interesting things, legally. I learned so much about geology and paleontology by doing so. The PRPA rules tear these opportunities away from everyone but those in high places. On my adventures, I met incredible, professional and amateur collectors with a body of knowledge that was mesmerizing. They included me, mentored me, and helped when no one else did. They showed me the grit and sweat of the trade, and opened my eyes to this incredible world where I can be a scientist and investigate my world without a permission slip. I can just hike and discover. Maybe I find a leaf, or a fossil beetle, or a trilobite…. but I am always on the lookout for something extra-special. I am in the field, my eyes on the ground. A person in a brick building, teaching classes, may be way more knowledgeable than us…. but their eyes are not on the ground everyday, like ours.

Finally, I want to address the trust issues between the amateur and hobby fossil collecting world, and that of academia and Federal agencies. I mean no disrespect to those who have worked, studied, and sacrificed to be in the privileged positions which they hold. I very much want to be one of you. But I do not have the circumstances you have. I do have a gift for noticing things on the ground. And I have a voracious mind that devours books, and knowledge. This is the same with much of the amateur fossil collecting community. We are out there to discover and SHARE. What is the fun of finding something, and telling no one? Amateur collectors, and even commercial ones are some of the most knowledgeable individuals in the world, regarding the specimens they deal with. In my experience, the amateur community has spent massive amounts of their own time and funds publishing books, contributing to the Smithsonian and museum collections, and carefully preparing and preserving fossils. If an oil company can rip through the fossil layers for black gold, then a person should be allowed to sit down with their child and split some rocks for a trilobite- without the fear of fines or imprisonment.

Let’s keep this all in perspective. If the academic and Federal community is concerned about preserving significant finds, then they should welcome with open arms, the people that make the discoveries and who want to share without reprisal of being cut off from their interests. Maybe that means letting a family take their kid out to look for fossils without fear of running afoul of the vaguely defined and impractical rules. That way they grow up with their eyes on the ground, also.

Please learn more about the problems with the proposed BLM regulations and make your voice heard before the Feb 6th public commenting deadline.

Statement From The Southern California Paleontological Society

Statement From The Southern California Paleontological Society

Below is the text of an exceptionally well written comment to the regulations by Karol McQueary, President of the Southern California Paleontological Society.  It may provide some inspiration and talking points for your own comments.  DO NOT RESUBMIT AS YOUR OWN COMMENT OR COPY & PASTE

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December 26, 2016

Re: Docket No. NPS–2016–0003. RIN 1093-AA-16. Comment on proposed Rule on Paleontological Resources Preservation Act of 2009.

To Whom It May Concern:

This letter is written by the Southern California Paleontological Society (SCPS), with support from other organizations and professionals concerned with preserving, responsibly collecting, managing, or studying paleontological material. SCPS has nearly 130 dues-paying members and is the sole club devoted exclusively to paleontology in Southern California. Many SCPS members work closely with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) as volunteers, docents, and fossil preparators or work with the Invertebrate Paleontology Research and Collections Department of the museum assisting with fossil curation. To advance our goals of research and education, SCPS members use their personal collections in presenting programs to Los Angeles and Orange County public elementary schools and community groups. In addition, several SCPS members have donated their extensive collections to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (Invertebrate Paleontology Research and Collections Department); to the Museum of Paleontology, University of California, Berkeley; and to The Biology Bus and Afterschool Center in New York City.

SCPS is a member of both the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies (AFMS) and its regional affiliate, the California Federation of Mineralogical Societies (CFMS). CFMS represents 108 gem-mineral-lapidary-fossil clubs located primarily (but not exclusively) in the State of California. CFMS represents 8,483 dues-paying members in aggregate. AFMS represents seven regional affiliates with 50,460 members in aggregate throughout the United States. CFMS and AFMS affiliates are signatories to this letter not only because of values shared in common concerning paleontological resources and member participation in avocational paleontology, but also because the proposed regulation under the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act of 2009 (PRPA) addresses in some places provisions of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), which therefore, might be construed to have application to collecting and managing geological and (non-commercial) mineral resources (“rock collecting” or “rockhounding”).

On behalf of the members of SCPS, our CFMS- and AFMS affiliate clubs, and other paleontology societies and professionals, we respectfully request your consideration of the comments herein concerning the Department of the Interior’s proposed regulation under PRPA. First, we fully support the conservation objectives afforded by this landmark Act. We also fully understand and support a comprehensive set of standards applied to managing paleontological resources on public lands and a coordinated approach between the different federal agencies that administer them.

We are encouraged that the proposed regulation demonstrates careful review and thoughtful effort invested in clarifying the objectives of the PRPA. We do have several concerns with the proposed regulation, and we feel some clarification or emendation is necessary to administer the regulation consistently and fairly. Our primary areas of concern are addressed in this letter:

  1. Aligning the mission and values concerning fossil collecting between the paleontology community and PRPA.
  2. Semantic clarification of “invertebrate” and “vertebrate” fossils/fossil collecting.
  3. Definition of terms: casual collect-or/ing, common, reasonable amount, and negligible disturbance.
  4. Access to federal lands for casual collecting: permits and prohibitions,
  5. Protective designations.

1.) Aligning the mission and values concerning fossil collecting between the paleontology community and PRPA.

Paleontological resources (“fossils”) have importance as both material patrimony and intellectual patrimony. The intent of PRPA is to balance both values. The intellectual values – educational, social, and recreational – flourish only when fossils can be discovered, collected, and studied. PRPA protects such values through accommodation of casual fossil collecting. The proposed regulation is to implement the PRPA of 2009. One stated purpose of this statute was “To ensure that amateur collecting of rocks, minerals, and invertebrate and plant fossils on Federal lands is not affected by this Act.” During development of the law, the merits and value of amateur paleontology were recognized, and the final law provides that “casual collecting” without a permit is to be allowed on BLM and National Forest lands, except as determined necessary to limit or restrict it within specific areas for the protection of other values and resources. The proposed regulations conflict with the letter and intent of the 2009 Act, where the BLM proposes prohibiting casual collecting within broad categories of land management area without specific justification, or throughout large areas where the prohibition is not justified by a specific need for the entire area.

The draft EA for the proposed regulation states, “Casual collecting activities are not anticipated to cause adverse impact to paleontological or other natural or cultural resources. However, if the BLM is aware that a paleontological resource may be depleted, the bureau may take action to prevent further depletion of the resource, either by closing the area to casual collection, or by limiting or restricting the definition of reasonable amount or negligible disturbance for that area.” The BLM may exercise discretion to close areas to collecting or to restrict collecting on a case-by-case basis. This provision enables overly broad prohibitions or even universal restrictions that may be unnecessary to protect designated resources. Area-specific management plans need to state the area- specific rules and the justification for them, and those management plans are required to be easily accessible for public reference.

The proposed regulation tips the balance between “material” and “intellectual” at the expense of the latter. In general, the proposed regulation appears to regard in situ preservation of fossils as an ideal and collecting as a “damaging” activity, or at least, an activity to be discouraged. However, fossils in situ are not necessarily protected by remaining in place. In a dynamic setting near the earth’s surface, fossils tend not to maintain equilibrium with an environment that is neither continuously neutral nor sufficiently static to remain intact. Erosion, which exposes fossils at the surface, has a natural destructive force that can quickly damage or destroy them if they are not recovered, especially after emplacement at or near the surface. Regarding their intellectual value, little can be learned about most fossils in situ, and accurate identification of invertebrate fossils is often impossible in the field. To protect and preserve both the material and intellectual value of fossils, they need to be found and collected.

The proposed regulation seems to restrict collecting commensurate with mis-use, over-use, or abuse associated with “night diggers” or claim jumpers, and not the behavior of responsible hobbyists. Where has the deleterious impact of responsible amateur collectors been demonstrated to justify the degree of restrictions proposed? The paleontological community is small. Are there data to suggest abuse by members of our community has occurred which warrants such severe constraints? The impact of casual collecting, before implementation of the PRPA, was determined to be minimal, and no action was recommended to curb casual collecting. If there is serious abuse/mis-use, we would like to see the data. We do not think that paleontological resources on federal lands have or will disappear through responsible collecting practices. Commercial collecting or other abuse is not casual collecting, and rules exist to prevent or control such commercial enterprise.

The proposed regulation restricts collecting in a manner that is impractical in the field. Where the proposed regulation under PRPA incorporates impractical or onerous restrictions on casual collecting (section 49.810), it actually conflicts with the 2009 statute. Please refer to the published discussion on development of that law, where casual collecting is a protected activity, except when in specific and limited areas it is found to be inconsistent with other goals or values.

We believe that fossil collecting has educational and social value that inspires young people to become our future scientists and stewards of public lands. It provides opportunity to better understand the processes of Nature’s laboratory through direct experience of its geologic wonders. It is an activity of exploration and discovery that enriches their knowledge about the geology and paleontological resources of the earth.

Fossil collecting is often thought of as a “gateway science” – when introduced to children, it not only enriches their understanding of the natural world and its geology and paleobiology, but it instills the knowledge that will make them better-informed adults who learn to appreciate society’s role in protecting our environment. Fossil collecting has been known to lead enthusiastic children to choose career paths or develop avocational interests in the sciences.

We would like to emphasize that recreational fossil collecting is an activity compatible with the guidelines articulated in the United States Forest Service’s document of June, 2010, “A Framework for Sustainable Recreation.” The AFMS Code of Ethics is consistent with federal guidelines concerning recreational use of federal lands. On CFMS affiliate-sponsored field trips, participants sign a waiver adhering to the AFMS Code of Ethics, which stipulates that collecting activities should “cause no willful damage to collecting material” and participants will “…take home only what …[they] can reasonably use,” “practice conservation and …utilize fully and well the materials…collected and …recycle…surplus for the pleasure and benefit of others,” and “appreciate and protect our heritage of natural resources.” On CFMS-sponsored field trips participants are expected to pack out what they pack in, pick up trash, mind habitat and vulnerable natural features, observe all laws and regulations – in short, we teach and practice responsible stewardship of our public lands.

Finally, we would like to put into perspective the impact the fossil-collecting community has on federal lands. This year, myFOSSIL.org has listed a membership of approximately 72 networked fossil clubs and societies in the United States that are devoted to the casual collecting of paleontological resources. In its “Draft Environmental Assessment for Two Definitions for Casual Collecting of Paleontological Resources on BLM-Administered Lands, Proposed 43 Code of Federal Regulations Part 49 Subpart I,” the BLM has calculated for purposes of analysis an average membership of 100 members per rock-mineral-fossil club in the United States. Based on this calculus, approximately 7,200 members of fossil-collecting communities potentially visit federal lands each year to collect. Certainly, other recreationists who do not self-identify as “paleontologists” may collect fossils as part of their recreational experience (e.g., rockhounds), but it seems clear that the total number of fossil collectors who visit federal lands is small and their potential impact is small contrasted against the estimated 62.4 million recreation-related visits to public lands in 2015.

2.) Semantic clarification of “invertebrate” and “vertebrate” fossils/fossil collecting.

We ask that the terms “invertebrate” and “vertebrate” fossils are never conflated together for the sake of administering guidelines concerning collecting of fossils/paleontological materials as a broad category. These important distinctions help to differentiate characteristics and associated values (e.g., pecuniary, rarity, complexity to excavate) of very different materials that should not be managed according to identical one-size-fits all standards.

3.) Definition of terms: casual collect-or/-ing, common, reasonable amount, and negligible disturbance.

In general, the criteria for casual collecting are reasonable. However, the critical/operative terms used are vague, and their meanings are subjective. We recommend clearly defining the terms and applying them consistently throughout the regulation and from one agency to another. We suggest the emendations or clarifications for specific terms or phrasing discussed below.

Reference 43 CFR, Part 49, Subpart I, §49.810: “What is casual collecting?” (a) Casual collecting means the collecting without a permit of a reasonable amount of common invertebrate or plant paleontological resources for non-commercial personal use, either by surface collection or the use of non-powered hand tools, resulting in only negligible disturbance to the Earth’s surface or paleontological or other resources.”

§49.810 (a)(2): “Reasonable amount means a maximum of 25 pounds per day per person, not to exceed 100 pounds per year per person. Pooling of individuals’ daily amounts to obtain pieces in excess of 25 pounds is not allowed.”

“Reasonable amount”. SCPS members, like the rest of the amateur community, adhere to the AFMS Code of Ethics and do not take more from a collecting site than they can reasonably use. But the “reasonable” amount of material may vary from one site and one situation to another. In many instances, we agree that the weight maximum of 25 pounds may be appropriate. We acknowledge that there may be sensitive sites where an agency might appropriately set a low weight amount. However, as a general standard, the proposed weight limit of 25 pounds is impractical, due to fossils often being imbedded in heavy matrix that cannot be removed in the field. Unique local conditions at any given site are understood best by the local agency. Therefore, we recommend deferring to the local administrative agency to depart from the low limit of 25 pounds and make “reasonable amount” more reasonable for invertebrate fossil collecting: 100 pounds with specimen in matrix or attached to host rock.

Petrified wood is governed by 43 CFR part 3622, which allows for 25 pounds per day plus one piece of any weight but not to exceed a total of 250 pounds per year. That 43 CFR part 3622 takes precedence over these new regulations (see p. 88175, Federal Register) should be made explicit. How will the differing daily and annual total pounds rules be combined or reconciled if both petrified wood and other fossils are collected by an individual?

“Negligible disturbance”. Replace “negligible disturbance” with “low impact disturbance.” This would comport with BLM’s standard and aligns with BLM’s study (in progress) on Disturbance Caps (est. May 2017, Barstow, CA field office). BLM characterizes amateur rockhounding as a “low impact disturbance” activity contrasted against “high impact disturbance” caused by commercial mining activity. The high and low impact disturbance can be differentiated visually from aerial surveying at different elevations. We recommend applying to invertebrate fossil collecting the same “low impact disturbance” standard used for rockhounding.

§49.810 (a) (1): “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.”

“That have been established”. The phrase “that have been established” is troublesome – established by whom? The regulation should stipulate a standard authority or reference on common species.

“Common”. If “Not all invertebrate or plant paleontological resources are common,” then the regulation should either stipulate the uncommon species that are specifically out of bounds or cite the authority reference where they are listed.

In part III, “Section-by-Section Analysis of the Proposed Rule,” page 88182 of the Federal Register, Vol. 81, No. 235, dated Wednesday, December 7, 2016, the BLM states:

“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.”

This language is problematic, because it is inconsistent with the actual manner in which discovery in the field customarily occurs; amateurs as well as professionals are often unable to make an identification in the field. Sometimes an identification can only be made later, with the aid of references or after the specimen has been cleaned and prepared. (See also below: §49.300 of Subpart D, Prohibited Acts)

“Err on the side of caution”. We believe that amateur collectors should exercise scrupulous judgement and care in the field, but this admonition effectively discourages collecting by hobbyists. It may even inadvertently limit collecting to professional paleontologists.  As a natural result of continuing erosion, fossils previously buried below the earth’s surface are uncovered each year. If amateur collectors should discover an “uncommon” fossil unexpectedly, we think it is neither practical nor advisable to leave the fossil in situ and to instead report it to the proper authorities, and then hope it will be retrieved. Should someone return to retrieve it later, the fossil may be difficult to locate, or if found, it may be damaged from exposure

“…surface collection or the use of non-powered hand tools”. We recommend emending the sentence to: “surface collection or the use of non-powered hand tools for shallow excavating (digging) or removing overburden.”

§49.810(a)(3): Negligible disturbance means little or no change to the surface of the land and minimal or no effect to natural and cultural resources, specifically:

  1. (i)  In no circumstances may the surface disturbance exceed 1 square yard per individual collector
  2. (ii)  For multiple collectors, each square yard of surface disturbance must be separated by at least 10 feet;
  3. (iii)  All areas of surface disturbance must be backfilled with the material that was removed so as torender the disturbance substantially unnoticeable to the casual observer.

“Negligible disturbance”. (See also comment in preceding section.)

We understand the PRPA was modeled after the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA). While it is a useful model, in some respects the occurrence (deposition) or handling of paleontological and archaeological resources are quite different. Therefore, the regulation should modify the standard appropriate for paleontological material. Because the nature of deposition and exposure of resources can be so different, the standards for “negligible disturbance” and confining “surface disturbing” activity to “1 square yard” are impractical.

Certainly, concerning sub-paragraph (i), the area limit of “1 square yard” is impractical. Fossil remains are rarely distributed evenly or contiguously. Often, they are found in one thin stratigraphic layer that may have been uplifted, folded, and otherwise changed over time. As a result, the fossil site can have any size, shape, or configuration. Given the nature of deposition, collecting fossils, therefore, often requires trying different areas (exploratory digging). The proposed regulation needs to accommodate surface collecting over a larger area than “1 square yard.”

The draft EA for the proposed regulations correctly states that the “PRPA requires the bureaus to allow casual collection and to define negligible disturbance.” It also discusses a range of spatial areas greater than zero up to five acres. Obviously, one square yard is much closer to zero than to five acres (using rules for geological surveys as a reference is not demonstrably relevant). The draft EA concludes that “Casual collecting activities are not anticipated to cause adverse impact to paleontological or other natural or cultural resources.” Therefore, again, it seems unnecessary for the spatial area collectors may examine to hew toward the low-end value (zero). In fact, instead of a quantitative value, we think the “low impact disturbance” standard BLM applies to rockhounding and limitation applied to collecting using simple hand tools are adequate standards of constraint.

Sub-paragraph (ii) requires that multiple collectors should be separated by a distance of least ten feet. For the aforementioned reasons, this is not possible. A fossiliferous area may be small, and it may have only one small accessible surface exposure. For most of our SPCA’s collecting trips, we have between 3 and 12 participants. If they were required to spread out according to this proposed rule, many of our participants might be out of range of the fossil site. This situation varies from site to site, from one stratigraphic formation to another, and a one-size-fits-all rule cannot adequately address each situation.

Sub-paragraph (iii) requires that all surface disturbance must be backfilled with the material that was removed so as to render the disturbance unnoticeable to the casual observer. The AFMS Code of Ethics requires that members backfill holes because those holes may cause injury to wildlife. Whether to protect wildlife or to leave the environment looking untouched, backfilling is certainly a reasonable requirement.

Concerning §49.810(d), any additional “limitations” need to be communicated to the public and to be consistent as interpreted and applied by BLM personnel. They should be clearly written and accessible for public reference, with an explanation of their justification.

4.) Access to federal lands for casual collecting: permits and prohibitions.

Reference 43CFR, Part 49, Subpart I, §49.800: “Is casual collecting allowed on lands administered by NPS or FWS? Casual collecting of paleontological resources is not allowed on lands administered by NPS or FWS. On those lands, collecting must be conducted in accordance with a permit as described in subpart B of this part.”

We recognize that the proposed regulation must conform to the 2009 PRPA statute, but we would like to state that we think there are wildlife refuges where casual collecting is compatible with the goals and purpose of the refuge. One example is the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and located north of Las Vegas, Nevada. The public is allowed both on- and off-trail throughout most of this vast refuge, and incidental surface collecting of rocks or fossils has not been shown to be negatively impactful to bighorn sheep, which the refuge was established to protect. However, currently, collecting is not allowed.

In addition, the National Park Service (NPS) administers large tracts as National Recreation Areas and is proposing to add substantial acreage around urban areas, such as the “Rim of the Valley” proposal for Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. We believe that casual collecting of rocks and fossils is a recreational activity compatible with other activities allowed in National Recreation Areas. There is a need for publically-accessible areas that enable educational nature study activities near urban populations.

These two aforementioned areas, one administered by FWS and one by NPS, are cited as examples of the need for critical consideration of the policy that currently does not allow any casual collecting on lands under the administration of these two federal bureaus.

§49.300 of Subpart D, Prohibited Acts: “A person may not: (a) Excavate, remove, damage, or otherwise alter or deface or attempt to excavate, remove, damage, or otherwise alter or deface any paleontological resource located on federal land unless this activity is conducted in accordance with the Act and this part.”

Authorization could be given in the form of a permit or allowed as casual collecting consistent with subpart I of this part. In Subpart E, Criminal Penalties, and Subpart F, Civil Penalties, fines and potential imprisonment are listed as the penalties for these prohibited acts. Whether identification applies to a common invertebrate fossil, a common plant fossil, or a significant invertebrate or plant fossil, dire penalties would discourage casual collecting, when such collecting should be encouraged. The paleontological community has clearly benefited from collecting done by amateurs. Such benefits can continue to redound to the paleontological community only if amateur collecting is supported, not penalized.

As discussed previously, we are concerned that the proposed regulation under PRPA may inadvertently discourage or even prohibit collecting by amateurs / casual collectors. In some instances, amateur collecting may be allowable only with sponsorship of a professional paleontologist. What sensible professional would accept personal responsibility (liability) for a casual collector?

5.) Protective designations.

Land use amendment plans and travel management plans have proliferated in recent years (e.g. DRECP, WMRNP in California). New protective designations have been created (e.g., under DRECP). The development and deployment of Planning 2.0 initiative (in progress) will necessitate review and possible revision of other existing plans to bring them into compliance with Planning 2.0 and consistent with FLPMA or PRPA, as applicable. We understand that WMRNP, for example, will be re-visited to conform with Planning 2.0.

Because the proposed regulation to PRPA will have wide application across the agencies of the federal system, and because there is now so much confusion among the public about what is or is not permissible – and where – we respectfully request preparation of a document listing all the protective designations and accommodation of invertebrate fossil collecting in each one of them.

For the record – contributions of amateur collectors

To demonstrate the invaluable contribution of amateur collectors to the field of paleontology, please consider some important case studies presented below. They attest to the historically productive nature of the relationship between amateur and professional. They attest to the invaluable role amateurs have had in preserving material patrimony and extending intellectual patrimony of paleontological resources.

One of the stated purposes of most paleontological societies, including SCPS, is to encourage responsible stewardship of earth’s paleontological resources and to promote scientific research, communication, and public education. The professional paleontological community is small (as mentioned previously). It has a long history of cooperation with and reliance upon amateur paleontologists to be its “boots on the ground.”

Over the decades, countless specimens, common and rare alike, have been found by amateurs. For example, the trilobite site in the Marble Mountains fossil bed (located in the Mojave Trails National Monument) was discovered by amateur rockhounds and brought to the attention of paleontologists.

New species have been identified and new localities for known species have been found. What to do in such circumstances? Amateurs frequently share their finds with museums or other repositories. Amateurs publish papers in newsletters, club bulletins, or journals, and they provide specimens for research and educational purposes to the professional community. For example, in SCPS, four former members donated their extensive collections to the Invertebrate Paleontology Research and Collections Department (IP) of NHM. These very knowledgeable amateurs include Harold Meals, Yvonne Albi, June Maxwell, and Father Floyd A. Jenkins. They are among many contributors to the substantial and important invertebrate collection at the Natural History Museum. Harold Meal’s collection consisted of many important California Pliocene and Pleistocene fossils, along with the accompanying geological and contextual stratigraphic data, making this collection an important research resource. Yvonne Albi’s collection, featuring echinoderms in particular, has been a useful addition to the comparative taxonomic collection. Another current SCPS member, Wayne Bonner, recently offered much of his collection to IP-NHM. His specimens will be of assistance in an ongoing effort to understand diversity of specimens in a collecting site.

Martha Burton Woodhead Williamson, an early amateur fossil enthusiast, collected shells extensively in the late 1800s. She donated this collection to the Los Angeles Museum of Art, History, and Science in 1912 (today, Natural History Museum). Her collection provided the core resource around which was built the now very significant Invertebrate Paleontology collection. Her collection was important mainly because she collected from localities that are no longer accessible, or have been effaced by urban development. Among other localities, she collected shells from Dead Man’s Island in the Port of Los Angeles, an island that was destroyed to build the current port. Visitors still come to NHM-IP Research and Collections in Los Angeles to see and study her collections. The specimens in her collection would be impossible to collect today, so they fill an important gap in the paleontological record of our region. They effectively preserve the legacy of material patrimony that would not be preserved had they been left in situ or gone undiscovered.

Members of the more than 70 fossil clubs and societies in the United States share in common the same values and interests in paleontology; although, different groups may have a different focus. They enjoy learning about paleontology, which includes the excitement of discovery through collecting in the field. The SCPS is committed to education and collaboration with the county museums in the Los Angeles area. Another group, the Anza-Borrego Desert Paleontology Society, is composed of volunteers who assist the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park staff in finding, preserving, and protecting park fossils. They are trained volunteers with a specific focus. Another group on the west coast, the North America Research Group (NARG), is well-known for the many significant specimens that its members have found and sometimes, prepared. The range of their finds includes a possible ichthyosaur to a late Miocene whale skull rostrum to a plesiosaur. All these specimens have been placed in museums. The dedicated volunteers of NARG do not limit themselves to “common” invertebrate finds. However, they always notify appropriate authorities whenever a discovery is made and then proceed by permission.

Not only do amateurs find and share their discoveries of new species and new localities, but by the number of specimens they provide, they allow a more accurate statistical analysis of species distribution. We cannot overstate how important it is not to incorporate language into the proposed regulation under the PRPA that marginalizes serious amateur or casual fossil collectors.

We are grateful for the thoughtful drafting of the proposed regulation under the PRPA. We appreciate having the opportunity to provide comments on the Proposed Rule to amend Title 43 of the CFR by adding a new part 49, and we look forward to seeing the interests and values of the community of amateur fossil collectors reflected in the final version of Part 49. We look forward to being given the opportunity to review the next draft and provide input.

Sincerely,

Karol McQueary, President
Southern California Paleontological Society 127 members
1411 Goodman Ave.
Redondo Beach, CA 90278