Fossil Facts:  Law & Policy

Fossil Collecting on Public Lands Regulatory History

1982 BLM publishes proposed regulations for fossil collecting on public land

These regs allowed commercial collecting of vertebrate and invertebrate fossils with purchased permit - would have shut out hobbyist collecting and made scientific collecting extremely difficult. These regulations were favorable to the commercial paleontological community, they opposed it because of probable harm to the amateur and scientific paleo collecting.

1983 Paleontological Resources Conservation Act of 1983 introduced

Senator Larry Pressler introduced this legislation in June 1983. The commercial paleo community helped write this legislation to protect the right of commercial, hobbyist and scientific fossil collecting on public lands. Bill died in committee since no one actively promoted and supported it after introduction.

1984 NAS convenes Committee on Guidelines for Paleontological Collecting

This committee invested three years in study of all the issues surrounding regulation of fossil collecting on public lands.

1987 NAS Committee issues report titled, "Paleontological Collecting"

This report contained TEN RECOMMENDATIONS for Federal Land Management agencies to follow in regulating fossil collecting on public lands. The Committee adopted this statement of principle when issuing its final report: "In general, the science of paleontology is best served by unimpeded access to fossils and fossil-bearing rocks in the field. Paleontology's need for unimpeded access is in sharp contrast to the prevailing situation in archeology. In this report, 'access' is defined to include all collecting and removal of fossiliferous material for study and preservation. Generally, no scientific purpose is served by special systems of notification before collecting and reporting after collecting because these functions are performed well by existing mechanisms of scientific communication. From a scientific viewpoint, the role of the land manager should be to facilitate exploration for, and collection of, paleontological materials."

1987 Secretary of the Interior, Donald Paul Hodel's letter to J. Bennett Johnston, Chair of Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources

In this letter, Secretary Hodel states "The NAS report has now been completed . . . We, therefore, plan to develop and publish new proposed rules, during Fiscal Year 1988, that will provide for the management and protection of paleontological resources consistent with the NAS recommendaitons."

1988 Senator Pressler offers amendment to 1988 Appropriations Act

Amendment accepted and passed as follows: "Notwithstanding any other provisions in this joint resolution, none of the funds provided by this Act shall be expended by the Secretary of the Interior to promulgate regulations concerning paleontological collecting on federal lands which are contrary to the 1987 published recommendations of the Committee on Guidelines for Paleontological Collecting, Board of Earth Sciences, National Academy of Sciences."

1989 to 1990 Negotiated Rulemaking Process initiated by BLM & USFS

Members of the amateur, commercial and academic paleontological communities met with representatives of the BLM, USFS, USGS, State Geological Surveys, museums, and amateur and professional paleontological associations to arrive at consensus of proposed regulations governing fossil collecting on public lands. These proposed regulations were never published in the Federal Register as participants were promised.

1992 Senator Baucus introduces the Paleontological Resources Protection Act

Massive protest from amateur, commercial and many academic paleontologists caused this bill to die in committee.

1993 Paleontological Resources Preservation Act authored

The American Lands Access Association, a lobbying arm of the amateur fossil collecting community, wrote the original draft of the PRPA and sought a Prime sponsor in the U. S. House of Representatives.

1994 USFS proposed rules prohibit all fossil & mineral collecting on FS lands

Hundreds of thousands of protests from across the country persuaded the USFS to withdraw the proposed rules.

1995 Senator Tom Daschle's staff begins research and rewrite of ALAA bill

Hundreds of letters and a DC visit by ALAA's legislative coordinator persuaded Senator Daschle and staff to actively seek new legislation. That effort led to the draft legislation titled: Fossil Protection Act of 1995 that combined the original ALAA bill and the first Daschle draft.

1996 The Fossil Protection Act of 1996 introduced in U. S. House of Representatives.

The Honorable Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Joe Skeen (R-NM) were Prime Sponsors. Bill died in committee.

1998 Fiscal Year 1999 Interior Appropriations Bill (S2237) Amendment

Required Secretary of Interior to submit a report to Congress "assessing the need for a unified Federal Policy on the collection, storage, and preservation of the fossil resources on public lands".

2000 Report of the Secretary of the Interior Fossil on Federal and Indian Lands issued in May

2001 The Paleontological Resources Preservation Act introduced in U. S. House of Representatives

The Honorable James McGovern of Massachusetts 3rd District is Prime Sponsor. The bill was introduced and referred to the Resources Committee in October 2001. Other sponsors at introduction are: the Honorable Mark Souder of Indiana's 4th District, the Honorable Todd Tiahrt of Kansas' 4th District, the Honorable William Coyne of Pennsylvania's 14th District, the Honorable Ellen Tauscher of California's 10th District and the Honorable George Miller of California's 7th District.

2009 In March both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate passed S22 that included The Paleontological Resources Preservation Act almost verbatim.

The only change is that there is no exception for casual collecting included, and it requires that all vertebrate fossils become the property of the Federal Government. It also establishes civil and criminal penalties for some fossil activities and the government is given powers of asset forfeiture for vehicles, equipment and fossils collected in violation of restrictions of vertebrate fossil collection. The net result is that nearly all amateur fossil collecting ended on Public Lands.

On this Page

 - Fossil Collecting on Public Lands Regulatory History
 - Some Background History on Our Public Lands


 - Law and Policy - A description of policy regarding collecting on 'public' lands.

 - Download Page - Downloadable material concerning collecting on 'public' lands.

Some Background History on Our Public Lands

The General Land Office and the U. S. Grazing Service were the primary agencies through various Homestead Acts and other means that were charged with disposal of the original 1.8 billion acres owned by the U.S. government after various wars and acquisitions bought from other nations such as that of the Louisiana Purchase and Alaska. All these public lands acquired by the federal government with the exception of those set aside as National Parks and Monuments, wildlife refuges, and military reservations, were under mandate to provide income for the government and/or to ensure that they passed into private ownership. The Organic Act of 1897 that established the U.S. National Forests under the management of the Department of Agriculture mandated the preservation of our national forest to ensure a continuing timber harvest for use in the U.S.

In 1946, the Bureau of Land Management was created to administer over 270 million acres of land [one-eighth of the entire land mass of the U.S.] which the government had been unable to persuade anyone to buy or even to claim without fee for homesteads or mining claims.

In the Multiple -Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960, the mandate for managing our National Forests was expanded to include uses of these lands for outdoor recreation, range (grazing), watershed, and wildlife and fish as well as timber harvest in a manner that would achieve and maintain in perpetuity a high-level annual or regular peiodic output of the natural resources on those lands while not impairing the productivity of the land. The 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act expanded the multiple use concept of land management to all public lands retained in Federal ownership with the exception of only those removed for other purposes by law.


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