The Casual Collecting Rules – What’s So Bad?

The Casual Collecting Rules – What’s So Bad?

The Paleontological Resources Preservation Act states that casual collecting of common invertebrate and plant fossils MUST be allowed without a permit.  Unfortunately, the actual rules created by the BLM to comply with the law are either so restrictive as to make it impractical, or so vaguely defined that they leave casual collectors exposed to many potential interpretations by the BLM.  Equally as disturbing these regulations codify into law limits on how amateurs can contribute to science and research.

Here is a short run down of the casual collecting definitions and the major problems they expose.  We will cover the permitting requirements and their devastating impact on research separately.  The information provided under the in depth analysis links provides plenty of additional talking points, data and research to assist commenters.  Links to the actual regulations and legislation can be found here.

49.810 – 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.

This is the definition for casual collecting.  The key is how they define terms such as “common invertebrate or plant”, “reasonable amount”, “negligible disturbance”, “hand tools” and “personal use”.

49.810 (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.

  • This section is so vaguely defined that what is common is totally up to interpretation. What you consider common, is likely different than what I consider common, which is likely different from what BLM enforcement might consider common.  This leaves casual/amateur collectors with no guidance and exposed to potential prosecution.
  • Requires rare or potentially rare specimens to be left in place, which will typically result in their rapid destruction by the elements and loss to science.
  • It is often impossible to tell whether an invertebrate or plant fossil is common until it has been removed from the field, prepared and researched.  This is true even by experts who are very familiar with the formation.
  • Incorrectly tries to link geographical distribution with a fossil being rare or common.  Many very abundant fossils (common) have a narrow distribution while many very non-abundant fossils (rare) have a wide distribution.
  • Read: How this leads to a near total ban on casual collecting in their own statements
  • Read: PRPA Rare Fossil Definition – Problems and a Solution
  • Read: In Depth Analysis Including Proposed Wording Changes

49.810 (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.

  • While weight limits are reasonable for small fossils free of matrix, most fossils are found on or in rocks substantially larger than the fossil itself.
  • Examples: Small trilobite fossils may frequently be found on slabs of rock over 25 pounds. Ammonite fossils larger than 25 lbs are very common in some formations.
  • Encourages attempts to excessively trim rocks containing fossils in the field resulting in significantly increased damage/destruction to fossil specimens.
  • Encourages destruction of fossil resources by forcing fossils to be left in the field to be destroyed by natural elements.
  • Highly restrictive on the amount of time casual collectors can spend pursuing their hobby each year to the point of being contradictory to the law.  If a collector hit their daily limit that would be four days they could pursue their hobby each year.
  • Read: In Depth Analysis Including Proposed Wording Changes

49.810 (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:

(i) In no circumstance may the surface disturbance exceed 1 square yard (3 feet × 3 feet) per individual collector;

(ii) For multiple collectors, each square yard of surface disturbance must be separated by at least 10 feet;

(iii) All areas of surface disturbance must be backfilled with the material that was removed so as to render the disturbance substantially unnoticeable to the casual observer.

  • Overly restrictive, particularly when collecting hard shales and limestones where a larger area must be cleared just to get a piece of rock to split and location of seams and fractures may not be known
  • The land disturbances of casual collecting is already very negligible when compared with land disturbances from other activities allowed on BLM land both recreational (without a permit) and commercial.
  • Fossils tend to be concentrated in “pockets” at seemingly random intervals due to deposition environments.  Exploratory activities looking new places to dig/collect, results in far more aggregate land disturbance than collecting a single spot.
  • No legal basis for such restrictions.
  • Read: In Depth Analysis Including Proposed Wording Changes

(4) Non-commercial personal use means a use other than for purchase, sale, financial gain, or research.

  • Inclusion of “or research” extremely disturbing
  • Specimens collected and data recorded by amateurs often forms the basis for future research, typically much more so with invertebrate paleontology where academic budgets/resources are more limited.
  • Coordination between amateurs and researchers should be encouraged, not discouraged.
  • The majority of new invertebrate species being described from public lands are being found by amateurs who donate them to science.  This means the amount of new material to be researched will slow to a trickle.

(5) Non-powered hand tool means a small tool, such as a geologic hammer, trowel, or sieve, that does not use or is not operated by a motor, engine, or other mechanized power source, and that can be hand-carried by one person.

  • The addition of the phrase “such as a geologic hammer, trowel, or sieve” is overly restrictive.  Nothing in the PRPA requires them to regulate the types of hand tools used.
  • Hard shales and limestones often can not be broken and collected with hand tools as small as a geological hammer or trowel.
  • As written would lead to the majority of invertebrate localities on public lands being render uncollectable, arbitrarily based on rock type, density, thickness of bedding layers.

4 thoughts on “The Casual Collecting Rules – What’s So Bad?

  1. I work on Cambrian fossils (especially monoplacophorans and multiplated mollusks) in the Ozarks of Missouri. Many of the localities are on National Forest land which apparently is now all off limits to all collecting.

    1. The forest service regulations that caused this were approved in the spring. These regulations are horrible for the future of research, particularly on invertebrates and plants.

      1. The PRPA of 2009 states that casual collecting will be allowed on NFS and BLM lands, except as necessary to restrict in specific cases. The NFS regulations (Dept. Agriculture) implemented the 2009 PRPA, in parallel to the Department of the proposed regulations to govern BLM land (Dept Interior) for which comment is being solicited. The NFS rules lack the objectionable definition of negligible disturbance noted in the proposed BLM guidelines. Casual collecting is allowed in National Forests, but collecting for research requires a permit. Don’t be cowed; discuss it with your NFS office.

        1. Problem is how the NFS rules defined casual collecting.

          “The term casual collecting… The Department considers that in establishing the term “casual collection” rather than “amateur collection” or “hobby collection” or “recreational collection”, the Act intended that casual collection reflect the commonplace meaning of “casual”. The commonplace definition of casual includes the elements “happening by chance; not planned or expected”, “done without much thought, effort, or concern”, and “occurring without regularity” … Consequently, the Department considers that casual collecting would generally be happenstance without intentional planning or preparation…”

          Yes, research collecting can be done with a permit. But the permitting requirements to collect invertebrates like this for research purposes are so burdensome to the point where it is completely impractical. The approved repository requirements don’t make a lot of sense if this circumstance.

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