"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
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
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