ACTION ALERT

Public Comment Period on Draft Fossil Management Report

Posted: November 5, 1999
Action Complete: Final Report Released in May 2000


This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies.

IN A NUTSHELL: The Department of the Interior is seeking public comment on its draft report to Congress entitled "Assessment of Fossil Management on Federal and Indian Lands." Comments will be accepted until November 29, 1999. The report was requested by senators whose previous attempts at fossil legislation have been rebuffed by the Clinton Administration. The report states that fossils on federal lands are part of America's heritage, and calls for greater efforts to protect and preserve fossils as well as their related data. Public comment periods are the principal mechanism for federal agencies to receive feedback on draft rules, regulations, and policies before they are put into final form and officially promulgated. It is important that the geoscience community plays a part in the development of policies regarding the treatment of fossils on public lands.

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On October 25th, the Department of the Interior (DOI) released a draft version of its congressionally mandated report, "Assessment of Fossil Management on Federal and Indian Lands." Eight federal agencies -- the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Smithsonian Institution, and the U.S. Geological Survey -- helped develop the report. The report uses seven "basic principles" as the basis for recommendations regarding the development of future legislation governing the treatment of fossils on public lands. These basic principles are:

The draft report is available in text and pdf formats at http://www.fs.fed.us/geology. The public comment period lasts until November 29th, and geoscientists are encouraged to submit their views on this draft. Written comments should be sent to: Sara Pena, Bureau of Land Management, 1849 C St. NW, LS-204, Washington DC 20240.

Actions taken by DOI were triggered by an obscure provision in report language accompanying the Senate-passed S. 2237, the Fiscal Year 1999 Interior and Related Agencies appropriations bill, which funds DOI and the U.S. Forest Service. At the request of Senators Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Tim Johnson (D-SD), Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Slade Gorton (R-WA) inserted two paragraphs that called on the Secretary of the Interior to issue a report on "assessing the need for a unified Federal policy on the collection, storage, and preservation of...fossils." Access to fossils on public lands has been an issue of longstanding concern for Johnson, who co-sponsored H.R. 2943, the Fossil Preservation Act of 1996, while serving in the House of Representative during the 104th Congress. According to his staff, the purpose of the mandate for a DOI report was to push the administration to address the need for a national policy for fossils on public lands. Further background from the 104th, 105th, and 106th Congresses is available at: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/fossilup99.html.

As part of the development of the report, a town meeting was held on June 21, 1999 at the U.S. Geological Survey's headquarters in Reston, Virginia. The meeting, announced in the Federal Register, was designed to receive input on federal paleontology policies and a background document entitled "Collection, Storage, Preservation, and Scientific Study of Fossils from Federal and Indian Lands" (also available on the web in pdf format at http://www.fs.fed.us/geology). At the meeting -- chaired by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's science advisor Dr. William Brown -- representatives from most of the Interior bureaus, as well as the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Army corps of Engineers, heard testimony from members of the public, including several representatives from The Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, an AGI member society. A summary of the meeting can be found on the AGI website at: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/fossils.html. AGI submitted written comments on the need for geoscience community involvement and the importance of data preservation. Those comments are available at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/fossilup99.html.

The report contains a set of recommendations linked to the seven basic principles described above. The recommendations include:


Sources: Federal Register, US Forest Service

Alert Contributed by Alison Alcott, AGI/AAPG Geoscience Policy Intern

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Uploaded November 5, 1999; Revised June 28, 2000


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