“Words of Caution”
AFMS Newsletter, Volume 61, Number 3 , FEBRUARY OF 2008
Past President of SFMS
Current Member of the AFMS Conservation/Legislation
Current Mississippi State Representative
for the American Lands Access Association Inc.
For the past 15 to 20 years warnings about the probability
that legislation similar to the current
Paleontological Resources Preservation Act now being considered by
Congress was expected. The warnings have
for the most part been ignored or arbitrarily dismissed and not passed on to
the majority of our members. It seems
the prevailing mindset is “that someone else is suppose to
take care of these types of problems”.
I know at the club level, legislative matters are so
uninteresting and boring; after all there are so many much more important
priorities like refreshments, field trips, programs, the annual shows,
etc., that just have to be addressed.
Most of our area federation and club editors don’t even consider articles about
pending legislation newsworthy enough to be included in their publications, not
even when they are in a pinch for filler material. At best the legislative
articles in the AFMS Newsletters and ALAA bulletins receive only a cursory glance most of the
So legislative matters are boring; well, while it’s
doubtful, let me see if I can generate a little interest. Lets go back to the Palentological Resources
Preservation Act (Senate version S320 and House version HR554). First of all
this proposed law is based on the premise that “all vertebrate fossils are
rare”. This is simply not true. Vertebrate fossils are found in abundance
all over the world. The United States alone
has billions of shark’s teeth and Dr. Charles Love, a noted Paleontologist,
estimated that in just a one-half mile area of the Green River Formation in
southern Wyoming, there are enough fossil fish specimens to provide two for
each man, woman, and child who live on this earth. Even the coveted dinosaur fossils are really
not that rare and more are constantly being discovered. All museums large or
small, public and private with an earth science interest have dinosaur fossils
in whole or at least in part. I also
understand that there are some institutions that have owned prize
specimens for many years, yet have made no attempt to
study or prepare them for display.
So the premise for this legislation is in principle based on a “lie” purposefully perpetrated
by a small group of charlatans to cheat the American public out of their
rightful heritage that insures the
freedom of access to public lands they own and support. The really disturbing part of this ploy is
that these charlatans were actually able to recruit legislative nitwits as
sponsors. This sheer arrogance and
unmitigated disregard for the rights of American citizens in this absurd
legislative proposal is absolutely amazing! It makes you wonder what rock these esteemed
members of our society crawled out from under.
If this proposed legislation is passed and enacted in it’s
present form, a mechanism is going to
be in place that could ultimately be used to restrict our access to
public lands not only for hunting fossils, but for most any other kind of
activity. Section 2 of the
Paleontological Resources Preservation Act as currently written allows
“recreational or casual collecting using hand tools in certain areas”. “These areas will be designated by the
Secretary of the Interior” who happens to be
a bureaucrat and more than likely will have no idea of where these areas
are; so actually some local surrogate will ultimately makes
the decision on the areas that will be available to the public. While these
recreational or casual collecting areas sound good, in reality they are just
going to provide some “crumbs” to dupe the public while most areas will
be placed “off limits” except for
the select few. Under Section 10 of this bill any sites that contain palentological resources
will be “kept secret” and since
the proposed legislation does not provide for
any type of public oversight, it makes you wonder what other discoveries
might also be kept secret.
Sections 7 and 8 of the proposed bill establishes some
pretty tough penalties. Pick up one of the billions of shark’s teeth on federal
lands and you could go to jail, pay a hefty fine, loose your vehicle and
anything else you have with you including your underwear. PS: There are no
requirements for the enforcement official that issues a citation to be an
expert in paleontology or even be familiar with different kinds of rocks.
The burden of proof is going to be on you, which means
attorney’s fees, other related cost, and the possibility of having your vehicle
impounded for a prolonged period.
Another special added proviso contained in the bill is the
“grandfather clause” in Section 7(d), which exempts owners of vertebrate
fossils from penalty if the fossils were lawfully obtained prior to the date
the proposed legislation is enacted. Now
that is downright decent, except for one small legal technicality that I
mentioned in the previous paragraph called “burden of proof”. If you own any vertebrate fossils, be sure
that you have absolute proof that you acquired them legally. Even with undeniable proof be careful, because
the bill also contains a provision for rewarding snitches. Owning fossils of any kind and particularly
vertebrate fossils may in the future
result in a lot of heartburn and
possibly a lot of expense.
Fossils are a substantial part of the businesses
associated with our hobby. If this law
is enacted, many of the rock shops around the country are expected to go out of
business. Think about the dealers at
your gem and mineral shows; while exclusive fossil dealers are few, most of the
dealers offer some fossils for sale.
They can only sell so much of the other items in their inventory, so how
do you think they are going to make up for the slack? A lot of the exhibits at
our shows are fossils. If enacted, this
bill is going to affect you even if you don’t have an interest in fossils.
These are the facts as I see them and have explained
them to you in the above paragraphs.
Who loses if this proposed legislation is passed? We do
and many more like us. Okay – what are
we going to do about it? Write letters to our congressional representatives or
sit back and do nothing? If we do
nothing, when the hammer falls so to speak, we will have no justification or
reason to cry about, because it will be our own fault. Think about it!
PUBLIC LAND ACCESS ISSUE INFORMATION AND OPINIONS: