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by Glenn W. Storrs, Ph.D.
Director of Science Research & Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology
Cincinnati Museum Center
1301 Western Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45203-1130

"To provide for the protection of paleontologcal resources on Federal lands, to promote the systematic compilation of baseline paleontological resource data, science-based decisionmaking, and accurate public education, to provide for a unified management policy regarding paleontological resources on Federal lands, to promote legitimate public access to fossil resources on Federal lands, to encourage informed stewardship of the resources through educational, recreational, and scientific use of the paleontological resources on Federal lands, and for other purposes."

So runs the preamble of H.R. 2974, the "Paleontological Resources Preservation Act", a bill introduced October 2, 2001 into the U.S. House of Representatives by Jim McGovern (D-Mass), William Coyne (D-Pa.), George Miller (D-Calif.), Mark Souder (R.-Ind.), Todd Tiarht (R-Kan.), and Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.).

As a professional paleontologist with an active interest in the rights and responsibilities of amateur paleontologists, I'm writing to say that this is finally the bill that addresses all of our needs and the one that we can, and must, all support. I'll say it up front:

Everything that can be done legally on federal land today, will be allowable after the passage of this bill!

That's it in a nutshell. No one should be afraid of this legislation unless they plan to steal the natural heritage of the people of the United States. It does not effect private land. It does not effect private collections. It does not restrict individual rights or freedoms. It reaffirms that rare and scientifically significant paleontological resources in the public domain should remain the property of all Americans and thus be available for our children and for future generations. Only the illegal exploitation of public property is proscribed. Period.

What does this bill do for the amateur community? Plenty. It encourages the participation of amateurs in the stewardship of fossil treasures. It reaffirms their right, and maximizes their opportunity, to collect rocks, minerals, and common fossil invertebrates and plants on public lands where they may do so today. It lays out a uniform policy that lets all collectors know just where they stand in regard to the law, rather than their being faced with a multitude of complex and confusing policies from each federal land management agency. It also fosters paleontological education at all levels. We can all be happy with these provisions.

What does it do to protect rare fossils? It ensures that they be collected under permit by responsible parties, both amateur and professional, and be reposited in public collections, just as is required today. It mandates that federal managers use appropriate care to inventory and monitor these resources for scientific and educational use. It requires them to increase public awareness of our fossil heritage. Just as archaeologists are consulted for archaeological resources, so now paleontologists, professional and amateur alike, will be consulted for the management of public fossil resources. Partnerships with the general public are to be encouraged. Again, these are all good things for everyone.

Why is this bill needed? Firstly, to achieve all of the aims listed above. Secondly, because the theft of our country's public fossil heritage is growing and nonrenewable public resources are increasingly at risk. We all know stories of fossils commanding ever higher prices on the commercial market. Sadly, this is also driving a growing black market. Fossils on public lands belong to you and me. We can not allow them to be lost to us through theft, and increasingly, stories about high prices for fossils include stories of their theft from public lands.

Let me emphasize that this is not a bill to outlaw the sale of fossils. There is a legitimate place for commercial collecting and for the sale, barter, trade, and private ownership of fossils. Equally, there are stories of the great scientific and educational role that amateur and commercial collectors have played, and continue to play, for the good of paleontology. I applaud this role and expect that it will continue. This bill encourages partnership between all sectors of the community. The collecting and sale of fossils from private land is not effected.

However, the bill does ensure that fossils in the public domain, those that now belong to you and me, and to our children and future generations, will continue to belong to everyone. I greatly feel this need. Responsible dealers and collectors, i.e. the majority of paleontology "enthusiasts", for I prefer the original French meaning of "amateur" - one with a passion or love for a subject, feel the same way.

Fossils are non-renewable - they can't be grown like forests. Fossils have scientific and educational value - there is intellectual content inherent in them that cannot be mined for profit as one might do with oil and other mineral resources. Public paleontology resources require responsible stewardship and long-term preservation. They need protection from theft and exploitation. Fossil enthusiasts of all levels of experience must have their rights protected and enthusiasm encouraged. The "Paleontological Resources Preservation Act" does just that. Please join me in supporting it.

I hope that I've been able to inform you, and calm any fears that you may have, about this long overdue effort in Congress. The full text of the bill is available on-line at:

Just enter the bill number, H.R. 2974, in the search window provided. Please take the time to read it. There are no hidden issues here. It's available for all to examine. Public fossil resources are in need of protection for the continued benefit of all and this bill ensures that they will have it.

Please take the time to contact your congressional delegation voicing your support for this legislation. The large number of volunteers and enthusiasts that work with me and with THEIR fossil heritage plan to do so. I hope you will too. If you care about fossils, I know you will.