In Their Words – How The Casual Collecting Regulations Lead To Total Bans

In Their Words – How The Casual Collecting Regulations Lead To Total Bans

This is a statement in response to comments on the common invertebrate and plant fossil definition provided in the PRPA regulations issued by the Forest Service in 2015. While it is from a different agency, keep in mind they are coordinating and the regulations produced were nearly identical. So, the intent can be assumed to be similar.

Response: The respondents’ suggestion that common and rare species are intermingled in many cases is conjectural and not substantiated. In cases where intermingling is demonstrated, the Authorized Officer has the ability to close an area to casual collection if it is considered that rare paleontological resources may be placed at risk by inadvertent casual collection.

Wow, reading this statement just blew me away.  Anyone who has done significant fieldwork fossils understands and appreciates the fact that rare and common species of almost ALWAYS intermingled in the same locations and beds (see examples below).  This isn’t even about paleontology, this is basic biology.  Any environment will have more and less abundant species and the fossil record will reflect this. There seems to be two possible conclusions.  Either those writing the regulations:

  1. Have only a minimal understanding of the topic that they are regulating.
  2. Or, purposely providing a loophole to effectively shut down on casual collecting of all fossils on public lands while still being within the legal authority of the PRPA.

The case can be made that it’s probably both, especially after reading their other statements in response to public comments on the regulations that show little appreciation and even disdain for the contributions of amateur collectors.

Example 1

In many fossil trilobite localities, particularly Lower Cambrian ones like in the Pioche Shale of Nevada, cephalon (heads) of Olenellus trilobites (the primary fauna) are extremely common, while articulated specimens are quite rare. It is not unusual to encounter several hundred or even thousand fossilized trilobite cephalon for every complete specimen found. By their own statements (see below) these whole trilobites would fit the definition of rare fossils. They are found intermingled in the same beds, thus will end up being collected together. Often you will not know if a trilobite is complete or incomplete until it has been removed from the field and prepared. Based on their own statements on the nearly identical Forest Service regulations these wide areas are now subject to closure to collecting at the whim of the “Authorized Officer”.

Response: Criteria for whether or not a paleontological resource would be considered common would include context of occurrence in a particular location and could include the nature of preservation, such as completeness and/or associations of elements of a specimen. Consequently, an assessment of common could largely reflect the context of a specimen, and not necessarily apply universally to a particular taxon. For example, concentrations of disarticulated columnals of a particular crinoid species might be considered common, whereas a complete and fully articulated specimen of the same species would generally be considered rare.

Example 2

Soft-bodied faunas are present (though very rarely encountered) in many or even most Cambrian fossil localities throughout Utah and Nevada. The Wheeler Formation, Marjum Formation, Weeks Formation, Spence Shale, Pioche Formation, etc. These are arguable the most heavily visited and collected geological formations by casual fossil collectors.  They are packed full of common fossils such as trilobites.

Anyone collecting these formations at nearly any locality has the potential to encounter these rare fossils and inadvertently expose or collect them. This is particularly true since they are extremely hard to recognize and to most collectors (even highly trained) ones they often look like an interesting shaped film on the rock.  As suggested in the original statement referenced this would now expose some of the most heavily visited areas by amateur fossil collectors to complete closure under the regulations.

Ironically, if it wasn’t for amateur collectors spending tens of thousands of days combined collecting common fossils in these formations the existence of these rare soft body faunas would likely remain unknown to science.

Your help is needed to make critical changes to these regulations in order to allow amateur collectors to continue to make discoveries on public lands.  Please familiarize yourself with the proposed regulations and leave a public comment before the comment period ends on Feb 6th.