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Prospecting Fossils, Opinion vs. Law
MikeS
post Dec 20 2014, 10:50 PM
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When I first started to look into the legality of collecting fossils years ago, I came across many opinions about the subject. Recently I have dug into the issue a little deeper to separate the opinion from actual law. While on the BLM website under rules and regulations page I saw this about prospecting on BLM lands:
QUOTE
Archaeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA)
Anything over 100 years old is considered a cultural artifact and therefore its removal or destruction without authorization is prohibited. No surface collection or disturbance of any cultural materials is allowed on public lands. This includes surface collection of arrowheads (under 43 CFR 8365.15(a)(1)). All surface collection, disturbance, excavation and/or digging for artifacts are prohibited.
Paleontological Resources
The law distinguishes between vertebrate (dinosaurs or animals) and invertebrate(seashells, etc.) fossils. Reasonable amounts of invertebrate fossils may be collected from the surface for personal use (not for sale). Vertebrate fossil collection (dinosaur bones) is prohibited. All excavation or digging for either type of fossil is illegal.
Mineral Resources (Rock, Sand, Gravel)
Reasonable amounts of minerals resources may be collected with a permit for personal use, if collection can be accomplished without causing resource damage.

So I decided to read the (ARPA) and related Acts. I could find no distinction between vertebrate and invertebrate fossils written in the law. Here is what it actually says: (I underlined one sentence and put the word "not" in bold.)
QUOTE
Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979
16 U.S.C. 470bb, Definitions
Section 3
As used in this Act—
(1) the term "archaeological resource" means any material remains of past human life or activities which are of archaeological interest, as determined under uniform regulations promulgated pursuant to this Act. Such regulations containing such determination shall include, but not be limited to: pottery, basketry, bottles, weapons, weapon projectiles, tools, structures or portions of structures, pit houses, rock paintings, rock carvings, intaglios, graves, human skeletal materials, or any portion or piece of any of the foregoing items. Nonfossilized and fossilized paleontological specimens, or any portion or piece thereof, shall not be considered archaeological resources, under the regulations under this paragraph, unless found in an archaeological context. No item shall be treated as an archaeological resource under regulations under this paragraph unless such item is at least 100 years of age.
16 U.S.C. 470kk,
Savings provisions
16 U.S.C. 470kk(a),
Mining, mineral leasing, reclamation, and other multiple uses
Section 12
(a) Nothing in this Act shall be construed to repeal, modify,or impose additional restrictions on the activities permitted under existing laws and authorities relating to mining, mineral leasing, reclamation, and other multiple uses of the public lands.
16 U.S.C. 470kk(b),
Private collections
(b) Nothing in this Act applies to, or requires a permit for, the collection for private purposes of any rock, coin, bullet, or mineral which is not an archaeological resource, as determined under uniform regulations promulgated under section 3(1) of this Act.
16 U.S.C. 470kk©,
Lands within Act
© Nothing in this Act shall be construed to affect any land other than public land or Indian land or to affect the lawful recovery, collection, or sale of archaeological resources from land other than public land or Indian land.


The law excludes paleontological specimens from the definition of "archaeological resource" "unless found in an archaeological context".
If they are found in a mineralogical context then they are minerals and subject to mining rights and laws.


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swizz
post Dec 21 2014, 05:34 AM
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The Antiquities Act also has their own rules regarding "artifacts" and contradicts "regulations" issued by other agencies.
Clear as mud. They can come and pry my invertebrate and flora fossils from my cold dead hands. crossbones.gif


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Crusty
post Dec 21 2014, 05:44 AM
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So by the first reference, collecting shark teeth would be illegal, because they're from a "vertebrate?"


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swizz
post Dec 21 2014, 05:52 AM
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I believe that is correct.
I'm expecting the Feds at my door any day now.... I have what I think is part of a small Shark tooth embedded in an invertebrate fossil! ph34r.gif Oh no!!!
The fossil police are coming! laught16.gif


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swizz
post Dec 21 2014, 06:23 AM
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It's hard to understand. Whenever I go to mineral shows there are many booths and tents that sell vertebrate fossils, of all kinds... from marine to dinosaur. Criminals?
One of my clients from Texas is a reputable arrowhead dealer, and he is an expert at dating them. He buys and sells them, occasionally hunts for them. I don't believe he is operating illegally. He pays taxes and isn't selling anything on the black market, but according to all of the conflicting regulatory Fed Acts..... confused0082[1].gif


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fenixsmom
post Dec 21 2014, 07:42 AM
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Sharks have no bones though. They are pure cartilage, just like fishies.
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swizz
post Dec 21 2014, 07:46 AM
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Link: Sharks are vertebrates


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fenixsmom
post Dec 21 2014, 07:55 AM
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Lol i know they have spinal columns. Just saying they aren't made from bone.
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swizz
post Dec 21 2014, 08:56 AM
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Coincidentally there was a documentary that premiered on CNN last night called "Dinosaur 13" which is very much on topic with these Acts. I missed it but it'll be rerun for a while and I'll see it. Did anyone else catch it last night?
Info: Dinosaur 13


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MikeS
post Dec 21 2014, 01:03 PM
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I did not see that documentary swizz but it looks like a good one. I did however find the law that distinguishes between vertebrate and invertebrate fossils:

QUOTE
P.L. 111-011
March 30, 2009
OMNIBUS PUBLIC LAND MANAGEMENT ACT
Title IV
Department of the Interior
Authorizations
Subtitle D
Paleontological Resources Preservation
SEC. 6301. DEFINITIONS.
In this subtitle:
(1) CASUAL COLLECTING - The term `casual collecting' means the collecting of a reasonable amount of common invertebrate and plant paleontological resources for non-commercial personal use, either by surface collection or the use of non powered hand tools resulting in only negligible disturbance to the Earth's surface and other resources. As used in this paragraph, the terms `reasonable amount', `common invertebrate and plant paleontological resources' and `negligible disturbance' shall be determined by the Secretary.
(4) PALEONTOLOGICAL RESOURCE - The term `paleontological resource' means any fossilized remains, traces, or imprints of organisms, preserved in or on the earth's crust, that are of paleontological interest and that provide information about the history of life on earth, except that the term does not include
(A) any materials associated with an archaeological resource (as defined in section 3(1) of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (16 U.S.C. 470bb(1)); or (B) any cultural item (as defined in section 2 of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (25 U.S.C. 3001)).
SEC. 6304. COLLECTION OF PALEONTOLOGICAL RESOURCES.
(a) Permit Requirement -(1) IN GENERAL - Except as provided in this subtitle, a paleontological resource may not be collected from Federal land without a permit issued under this subtitle by the Secretary.
(2) CASUAL COLLECTING EXCEPTION - The Secretary shall allow casual collecting without a permit on Federal land controlled or administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Forest Service, where such collection is consistent with the laws governing the management of those Federal land and this subtitle.
(3) PREVIOUS PERMIT EXCEPTION - Nothing in this section shall affect a valid permit issued prior to the date of enactment of this Act.
SEC. 6311. SAVINGS PROVISIONS.
Nothing in this subtitle shall be construed to
(1) invalidate, modify, or impose any additional restrictions or permitting requirements on any activities permitted at any time under the general mining laws, the mineral or geothermal leasing laws, laws providing for minerals materials disposal, or laws providing for the management or regulation of the activities authorized by the aforementioned laws including but not limited to the Federal Land Policy Management Act (43 U.S.C. 1701 - 1784), Public Law 94 - 429 (commonly known as the `Mining in the Parks Act') (16 U.S.C. 1901 et seq.), the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (30 U.S.C. 1201 - 1358), and the Organic Administration Act (16 U.S.C. 478, 482, 551);
(2) invalidate, modify, or impose any additional restrictions or permitting requirements on any activities permitted at any time under existing laws and authorities relating to reclamation and multiple uses of Federal land;
(3) apply to, or require a permit for, casual collecting of a rock, mineral, or invertebrate or plant fossil that is not protected under this subtitle;
(4) affect any land other than Federal land or affect the lawful recovery, collection, or sale of paleontological resources from land other than Federal land;


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Clay Diggins
post Dec 21 2014, 02:51 PM
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QUOTE (swizz @ Dec 21 2014, 05:34 AM) *
The Antiquities Act also has their own rules regarding "artifacts" and contradicts "regulations" issued by other agencies.
Clear as mud. They can come and pry my invertebrate and flora fossils from my cold dead hands. crossbones.gif


That portion of the 1906 Antiquities Act is not enforceable. Although the actual law always trumps regulations the first attempt to prosecute for violation of that section resulted in the law on antiquities being declared unconstitutionally vague. Congress never defined what an antiquity was. slaphead.gif

See United-States-v-Diaz

The reason why you see vertebrate fossils for sale openly is the Federal fossil collecting laws only apply to Federal lands. Those laws are unenforceable on private or State lands.

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p.s There is an exception in the 2004 Act for collecting arrowheads found on the surface - they are open game. Please note that mining claims are also exempt from enforcement.
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Caveman
post Dec 21 2014, 05:30 PM
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Also, shark tooth collection IS legal - the teeth themselves have been exempted, but if you happen to find the rest of the shark fossilized with the teeth, then it is protected. The reason is that sharks loose their teeth all the time (shed them, too), and since they are hard, and quickly covered by sediment, they are fairly "common" fossils, My uncle has, or had, a VERY large collection of them. I did read it somewhere, I just cannot remember where.... I was taking "Geology of Colorado" at Metro State College at the time, almost 15 years ago.


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CP
post Dec 21 2014, 08:20 PM
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Good thread MikeS, thanks for starting it up and great work digging in for the info as well.
For mining claim owners as well as private land owners, I think this particular part you quoted sums it up easily enough…… thumbsupsmileyanim.gif
QUOTE
Nothing in this subtitle shall be construed to.......

(1) invalidate, modify, or impose any additional restrictions or permitting requirements on any activities permitted at any time under the general mining laws, the mineral or geothermal leasing laws, laws providing for minerals materials disposal, or laws providing for the management or regulation of the activities authorized by the aforementioned laws including but not limited to the Federal Land Policy Management Act (43 U.S.C. 1701 - 1784), Public Law 94 - 429 (commonly known as the `Mining in the Parks Act') (16 U.S.C. 1901 et seq.), the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (30 U.S.C. 1201 - 1358), and the Organic Administration Act (16 U.S.C. 478, 482, 551);

(2) invalidate, modify, or impose any additional restrictions or permitting requirements on any activities permitted at any time under existing laws and authorities relating to reclamation and multiple uses of Federal land;

(3) apply to, or require a permit for, casual collecting of a rock, mineral, or invertebrate or plant fossil that is not protected under this subtitle;

(4) affect any land other than Federal land or affect the lawful recovery, collection, or sale of paleontological resources from land other than Federal land;


Cool show Swizz, I’d definitely like to see that Dinosaur 13 sometime. We’ve all heard about Sue-the largest ever t-rex over the last 20+ years and the case surrounding it’s “ownership” as well as right to sell at open market! Very interesting outcome indeed and I’ll be looking forward to seeing it. Really interesting flow over all between the first contracted work through the Sotheby’s auction…..hmmmm must have boiled down to just that, “ownership” in courts. Love it!! signs021.gif Then continued on to be even more interesting to see who “paid” the bucks for it to be “owned” by the Chicago museum finally!

Good point also Caveman, since their teeth are shed and replaced throughout their lives resulting in many hundreds of un associated teeth found not with the entire shark.


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swizz
post Dec 22 2014, 09:01 AM
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Thanks Dan!
Item #4.... (I don't like the usage of the term "Federal Land"). Does this mean that claim owners are exempt from anything stated in the Act? In other words... are mineral claim owners allowed to collect any fossils (vertebrate, invertebrate, whatever) and artifacts on their claims? For sale and/or collection? Not just surface, but during any mining activity?


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Clay Diggins
post Dec 22 2014, 10:20 AM
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Not all lands owned or managed by Federal agencies are "Public Lands". All lands managed, owned or leased by the United States are a subject of these Acts regarding antiquities and fossils. If you know of another all encompassing phrase for all the lands managed, owned or leased by the United States I would hope you would share that with us. The use of the phrase "Federal Lands" is not in opposition to public lands but it is inclusive of those lands.

There is no right under the mineral grant to mine fossils or antiquities. The Savings Clause simply preserves the right to mine valuable minerals notwithstanding the prohibition on collecting vertebrate fossils on Federal lands. You can't be prosecuted for removing or disturbing fossils or antiquities in the course of your federally protected mining activities. The Savings Clause doesn't appear, to me, to allow collecting or sale of those fossils or antiquities revealed while mining and you won't find permission in the mining acts either.

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