“Words of Caution”
AFMS Newsletter, Volume 61, Number 2 , December 2007/January 2008
Past President of SFMS
Current Member of the AFMS Conservation/Legislation
Current Mississippi State Representative
for the American Lands Access Association Inc.
Just a few days ago my wife and I
returned from a month of traveling in the northeast and it was really a
wonderful trip. Yep, I took my
“rock-hammer”, but it never came out of the vehicle, not even when we visited the
mines at Herkimer, NY.
Our intentions were changed when we arrived at the mine and found
several school buses in the parking lot. It looked like someone had stirred up
an ant bed of future rockhounds, so we decided it might be better to just visit
the rock shop. Anyway, our trip was
actually to visit some of the early American historical sites and to do some
sightseeing in that part of the country. We were not really disappointed that
we didn’t get to do any rock-hounding, but we did find a lot of areas where we
would like to return to one day for that purpose. The bad part of a trip like
ours is that when you return home you find that you are way behind the power
curve on things that need to be done.
As of this date (remember I write
these articles for the newsletter a month in advance) the two Bills in
Congress regarding the Paleontological
Resources Preservation Act have not been acted on and remain stalled (at least
for the time being). The Senate version
(S-320) is on the legislative calendar, but has not been brought up for
a vote. The House version (HR554) is
still in committee and I have not yet seen a committee report or a move to
bring it to the floor. Since I had been away for a month and had a
temporary computer glitch when I returned, I want to thank Jon Spunaugle for
bringing me up to date on this particular issue.
With this legislation being stalled we still have a window
of opportunity to voice our opposition to members of Congress and I strongly
urge you to do so. Many of you have just
assumed your new leadership positions and you are worried about how your year
at the helm will turn out. I know that
you have a lot on your plate and now I’m asking you to add more, but we have
been blessed with another chance to make a really profound difference. Will your legacy be that you served the best
refreshments, had nice programs, made the most money, or will it be that under
your leadership the members of your federation or club help establish a
national policy that will guarantee the future of an important part of our hobby
and our heritage? On the other hand we
can take the easy way of sitting on our butts, do nothing, and let the
opportunity slip by.
I know that some of you are wondering why it is so
important that we let our feelings be known, I mean after all most of us will
probably never find or try to dig up a dinosaur fossil like a
Tyrannosaurus Rex or a Brontosaurus.
Actually, we are not even the target of this legislation; the fight so
to speak is between the scientific community and private sector with commercial
interest. We fall more or less in the
category of “collateral damage”. The majority of our
members believe that fossils with major palentolotical significance should be
preserved, but don’t think that picking up a petrified shark’s tooth is going
to cause a catastrophic scientific meltdown.
The importance of our involvement is to insure that we do not loose any
more of our recreational privileges and to make sure that the laws are
sufficiently clear so that we don’t end up with a hefty fine, jail time, or
both. For those of you that have little or no interest in fossils, remember one
very important thing, most law enforcement personnel do not know one kind of
rock from another. Think about it.
If the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act becomes
law in it’s present form it will result in major restriction being placed on
our activities. If this act becomes law,
will you be comfortable visiting federal lands with the knowledge that someone
in your family or field trip group might inadvertently pick up the wrong kind
of “rock”? Do you have fossil exhibits
at your shows? Is this going to stop the
commercial exploitation of fossils as intended?
I don’t think so, it will make the fossils even more valuable and while
some individuals or smaller entities may be shut down, this is a
multi-million-dollar business and many of the prized specimens will be sold on
the black market or quietly slipped out of the country to be sold. Will the Paleontologists gain from this
proposed law, maybe, but they will loose a lot of public input and
support. I know that I wouldn’t report a
major fossil find because if there is any site damage, I would be a suspect and
I don’t want police searching my home.
Think about these issues and while you are at it, I want you to remember
“We the People” own these federal lands and our ancestors obtained them with
their blood, sacrifice, and unimaginable hardships. We in turn have continued
to support these lands often under similar conditions and with the added burden
of our hard earned money in tax dollars.
We should not ever consider letting our access to public owned lands or
their content (in this case fossils) be restricted or taken away without a
Bringing this matter to the attention of your membership
might create some interest or maybe even a little excitement for a few of
minutes, but that will be about as far as it goes. The only sure way of getting any meaningful
effort underway is to make it a club project as I pointed out in my November
article. While individual letters would
be best, it requires more effort and higher cost, so the better solution would
probably be a club petition. The
document must have the signature, printed name, and address of each individual
taking part. PS: Your petition does not
have to be restricted to members only, you may include family members, friends,
and most anyone else you can convince to take part. Politicians are swayed by numbers, so get as
many signatures as you possibly can. I
found several petitions on the internet.
The one I personally liked best was by the Gem & Mineral Society of
Franklin, North Carolina and it can be found by going to the AFMS internet site
and then to the sub-site for Southeast Federation. The petition is in the Special Interest
Column under the title “Paleontological Resources Preservation Act”. Any letters or petitions used as a format
should be re-written to reflect the views of your club.
PUBLIC LAND ACCESS ISSUE INFORMATION AND OPINIONS: