Update on Museums, Fossils, and Public Lands (10-9-02)

When most people think of public lands, the topics that usually come to mind are natural resources, energy, or conservation in national parks.  However, public lands are also of concern for those working with paleontological resources, such as museums, whose collections may contain a substantial number of artifacts collected from them.  This issue, as well as the issues of permits for different types of visitors in national parks and wilderness designation of lands, also impacts the National Park Service.  Issues for the use of public lands include classification as wilderness, who can fairly derive benefit from public lands, and what financial role the federal government should play in the ownership and support of scientific artifacts collected from them. The specific issue of fossils on public lands has also been in the spotlight recently as paleontology groups have sought to work with both Congress and federal agencies, such as the National Park and Forest Services, to develop legislation that would protect fossils and other geological and biological artifacts from damage or removal from public lands. 

Most Recent Action
On October 8th, the Senate place S. 2727, the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act, on the calendar for floor debate. After its July 23rd hearing, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee made amendments to the bill, then passed it out of committee without an explanatory report. (10/9/02)

On July 23, 2002, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, chaired by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), held a hearing to discuss two bills on paleontological and archeological resources on public lands -- S.2727, S.2598 -- and a bill that adds three Carribean rivers into the WIld and Scenic Rivers program (H.R.3954). Introduced by Akaka this July, S. 2727 is the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act that adopts the recommendations of a report submitted to Congress in May 2000, titled Fossils and Federal and Indian Lands. This report recommended a framework of fossil management analogous to the Archeological Resources Protection Act of 1979. In the hearing, representatives of the Department of the Interior (DOI), US Forest Service (USFS), and Society of Vertebrate Paleontology voiced their support for the S.2727, especially on the need for unified policy and on recognizing the legitimacy of recreational invertebrate and plant fossil collection. On the other hand, the witnesses also expressed several recommendations and concerns regarding S.2727. (7/26/02)



Hearing Summaries


Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks
Hearing on Bills Concerning Paleontological and Archeological Resources on Public Lands (S.2727 and S.2598)
July 23, 2002

Bottom Line
On July 23, 2002, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, chaired by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), held a hearing to discuss two bills on paleontological and archeological resources on public lands -- S.2727, S.2598 -- and a bill that adds three Carribean rivers into the WIld and Scenic Rivers program (H.R.3954). Introduced by Akaka this July, S. 2727 is the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act that adopts the recommendations of a report submitted to Congress in May 2000, titled Fossils and Federal and Indian Lands. This report recommended a framework of fossil management analogous to the Archeological Resources Protection Act of 1979. In the hearing, representatives of the Department of the Interior (DOI), US Forest Service (USFS), and Society of Vertebrate Paleontology voiced their support for the S.2727, especially on the need for unified policy and on recognizing the legitimacy of recreational invertebrate and plant fossil collection. On the other hand, the witnesses also expressed several recommendations and concerns regarding S.2727.

Senators Present
Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Chair
Craig Thomas (R-WY), Ranking Member

Hearing Summary
Senator Akaka opened the hearing by promoting S.2727 as a bill that ensures "reasonable access" to paleontological resources on federal lands for the public and for scientific and educational communities. He believes this bill is a way to deal with the current illegal activities (e.g. collection, vandalism) against fossils, particularly of the vertebrate kind. Stressing the importance for proper protection and management, Akaka stated that fossils are "too valuable to be treated as general theft."

The first witness to speak was Christopher Kearney, Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management, and Budget. His testimony focused on S.2727 and S.2598. He informed the subcommittee that Department of the Interior (DOI) supports S.2727 for the purposes that the bill provides "a unified federal policy to ensure that scientifically significant fossils on certain federal lands are inventoried, monitored, protected, and curated consistently, while accommodating the agencies' distinct missions." But, Kearney also pointed out some areas of concern and requested more time to fully review the bill. DOI had concerns over Indian lands, especially in terms of tribal sovereignty, and thus recommended provisions that recognize Indian land issues. DOI also wanted clearer definitions of terms such as "paleontological resources," "casual collecting," and "person." Kearney was also concerned that the bill may interfere with federally permitted grazing and timber activities. He also said DOI needs to further review the penalty and forfeiture provisions. Also discussed was the S.2598, the Enhanced Protection of Our Cultural Heritage Act of 2002, which proposes to change the penalties for illegal trafficking under the Archeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA). He questioned whether S.2598 would successfully strengthen ARPA, and thus requested more time to review the bill.

Elizabeth Estill, Deputy Chief of Program and Legislation for the USFS, also provided the Forest Service's perspective on S.2727. Estill said that the USFS supports the bill as it helps secure the agency's authority to manage and protect all paleontological resources on Nation Forest System lands and because it distinguishes fossils from archeological, cultural, and mineral resources.

The final testimony was from Richard Stucky, President of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and Vice President of Museum Programs at Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Like the others, Stucky was in favor of S.2727. He believes that the bill is important because it "increases the awareness of the cooperative spirit of amateurs and professional," provides stronger penalties to those who steal or destroy fossils that are part of "our public heritage," and raises the "ethical awareness and standards for preserving fossils." He was also pleased that the bill recognized non-commercial fossil collection as valid. One suggestion was to expand the definition of "federal lands" by including lands administered by the Army Corps of Engineers. In closing, Stucky hoped that S.2727 will "foster more and more opportunities [for cooperation between paleontologists and federal agencies] and inspire the long-term preservation of these priceless national resources."

- EMK

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks
Hearing on multiple bills, including H.R.  3928 and S. 139 on establishing a new
facility for the University of Utah Museum of Natural History

June 20, 2002

The Bottom Line
On June 20th, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks held a hearing to consider several bills, most notably H.R. 3928 and S. 139 that would establish a new facility at the University of Utah for the Museum of Natural History for the housing of archaeological, paleontological, zoological, geological and botanical artifacts gathered on federal lands in the area. The other bills considered would create heritage areas in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Utah, and New Mexico and examine areas in Massachusetts and Connecticut for potential inclusion in the National Park and National Trails Systems. Of principal interest to the geologic community are the University of Utah Museum bills. Among the geologic artifacts to be housed in a new museum proposed by the bills would be minerals, rocks, and fossils collected from the area. A representative from the Department of the Interior (DOI) said that all of these bills, except for the two that would establish a new facility at the University of Utah for the Museum of Natural History, have the support of the federal government. DOI opposes the building of the new museum for the University of Utah Museum of Natural History because of the high cost to the National Park Service (NPS).

Members Present
Daniel Akaka (D-HI)
Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)

Hearing Summary
Opening Statements
Senator Dan Akaka (D-HI) noted at the opening of the hearing that most of the bills on the agenda were non-controversial, except for H.R. 3928 and S. 139 that would establish a new facility at the University of Utah's Museum of Natural History for the housing of artifacts gathered on neighboring federal lands. Akaka noted that at issue is the use of National Park Service (NPS) funds for the construction of the new museum. As for the other bills, they include: H.R. 1814 and S. 1609 to amend the National Trails System Act to designate the Metacomet-Monadnock-Mattabesett (3-M) Trail in western Massachusetts and central Connecticut for study for potential addition to the National Trails System, S. 1925 to establish the Freedom's Way National Heritage Area in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, S. 2196 to create the National Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area in Utah, S. 2519 to study Coltsville, Connecticut for potential inclusion in the National Park System, and S. 2576 to establish the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area in New Mexico.

Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), in his brief opening statement, voiced his support for S. 2576 that would establish the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area in New Mexico and recognized the hard work of the people involved.

Panel 1
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT)
Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT)
Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT)

Dodd and Lieberman provided similar testimony in support of S. 2519 to study Coltsville, Connecticut for potential inclusion in the National Park System.  They remarked on the rich tradition of Coltsville, Connecticut, and its role as a "sparkplug of the Industrial Revolution."  Coltsville's seminal role in industrialization is due to the contributions of Samuel Colt, who developed the revolver handgun and perfected the manufacture of firearms in the early to mid 19th century.  The senators noted that the area would become a museum of American industrialism and has the full support of Connecticut.

Bennett testified in support of both the legislation creating the National Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area in Utah and the legislation establishing a new facility at the University of Utah for the Museum of Natural History.  He said that S. 2196 is crucial to saving the early Mormon legacy in Utah as it would lay aside land to preserve a historical path of the Mormons. He also wants the federal government to help with the construction of a new Museum of Natural History to house artifacts collected on federal lands (H.R. 3928 and S. 139).  He noted that 75% of funds would come from private donations and that additional funds from the federal government would increase donations by legitimizing the project.

Panel 2
Ms. Brenda Barrett, National Coordinator for Heritage Areas, National Park Service, Dept. of the Interior

Barrett voiced DOI's support for most of the bills under consideration.  She testified that DOI unequivocally supports bills H.R. 1814 and S. 1609 on the 3-M Trail program, S. 1925 on the Freedom's Way National Heritage Area, and S. 2576 on the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area.  DOI supports, but with a few changes to the boundaries, S. 2196 on the National Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area.  Barrett also noted that DOI supports S. 2519 to study Coltsville, Connecticut, for potential inclusion in the National Park System, but DOI has not provided for it in the 2003 budget request.  She said that this study will have to wait until at least next year.  Barrett then stated that DOI does not support H.R. 3928 and S. 139, to establish a new facility at the University of Utah for the Museum of Natural History.

Panel 3
Ms. Kathryn Cordova, Chair, Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area Steering Committee
Ms. Jose Villa, Vice Chair, Interim Board of Directors, Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area
Mr. Fred Esplin, VP of University Relations, Univ. of Utah
Mr. Wilson Martin, Acting Director and State Historic Preservation Officer, Utah Division of State History
Ms. Heather Clish, Director of Trails and Riverway Stewardship, Appalachian Mountain Club
The Honorable Mary Whitney, City of Fitchburg, MA 

Esplin testified on behalf of the Natural History Museum on its desire to build a new natural history museum in Salt Lake City to house archaeological, paleontological, zoological, geological and botanical artifacts collected from federal lands in Utah (H.R. 3928 and S. 139). He pointed out that 70% of the land in Utah is owned by the federal government, and it should help with some of the costs of building a new museum. He explained that a new building is needed because the old building that currently houses the artifacts is not seismically stable. The federal government, which has contributed less than $300,000 to the collections in the past, is being asked to give $15 million, or 25% of the total cost of the museum. The rest of the money will come from private donations, and the upkeep of the museum will be financed by the state, Esplin said.

Question and Answer Session
Akaka began the question and answer session by asking Barrett what effect the construction of a new museum at the University of Utah would have on the finances of the National Park Service. Barrett answered that the project would cut too deeply into NPS funds and is opposed for this reason.

Akaka ended the hearing by asking Esplin why the federal government should help with the building of a new museum to house Utah artifacts from federal lands. Esplin responded by pointing out that the government has requested that these artifacts be preserved, and that it actually owns the artifacts.

-DBV 


House Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation, and Public Lands
Hearing on H.R. 2385 and H.R. 2488 (Preserving Paleontological Resources in St. George Utah,
and Wilderness Designation in Lands of the Pilot Range, Utah)

July 26, 2001

The Bottom Line
On July 26, 2001, the House Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation, and Public Lands met to discuss two bills introduced by Committee Chairman James Hansen (R-UT) dealing with public lands issues in Utah.  H.R. 2385, the Virgin River Dinosaur Footprint Preserve Act, seeks to convey to the city of St. George, Utah, a piece of property for the purposes of protection and preservation of recently discovered 200 million year old trace fossils.  H.R. 2488 designates a 22,000 acre tract in the Pilot Range in Utah as wilderness.  Representatives of the Department of the Interior (DOI) and of the city of St. George spoke on behalf of H.R. 2385, and representatives from DOI, a nearby Air Force base, and environmental interests spoke in regards to H.R. 2488.

Hearing Summary
Subcommittee Chairman Joel Hefley (R-CO) opened the hearing with remarks in support of both bills.  Hansen was also present at the hearing to speak on behalf of his bills.  The first bill considered was H.R. 2385 that instructs the Secretary of the Interior to buy the land, then convey ownership to the City of St. George.  The city, Washington County, and the federal government would partner to preserve and manage the site.  The DOI would also provide grant money (up to $500,000) to maintain and preserve the site.  Full text of witness testimony can be found on the hearings page at the Resources Committee website under "July 26, 2001."

The land in consideration is currently owned by a private citizen, Dr. Sheldon Johnson.  In February 2000, Johnson began development on a portion of land adjacent to the Virgin River in southern Utah.  During the process, a square fracture in the Navajo sandstone was discovered to contain various dinosaur tracks, tail draggings, and skin imprints of a high quality.  Since the discovery, Johnson and the local community have opened the site to the public and tried to protect the resources to the best of their ability.  However, the site has received 140,000 visitors since its opening--more than some national parks receive in a year--and Johnson and the people of St. George have asked the government to assist them in maintaining and protecting these paleontological resources.  As Hansen stated in his opening remarks on the bill, it creates a partnership between the city and the federal government with the ultimate goal of preservation of the tracks.

So far, the existence of two species of carnivores have been identified at the site as well as dinosaur tracks of the herbivorous Prosauropods.  The largest carnivore tracks are from Dilophasaurus, the dominant predator of its time.  There are also tracks from Coelophysis at the site.  The type and quality of the tracks have been confirmed and studied by dinosaur expert Dr. Martin Lockley of the University of Colorado at Denver.  Johnson and Mayor Dan McArthur both spoke to the committee in strong support of the bill, sharing the experiences they have had with the site so far.  Mr. Tom Fulton, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management for DOI, also spoke in support of the bill, although he expressed the desire to work with the subcommittee on some amendments and changes to bill language.

The second bill discussed at the hearing (H.R. 2488) would designate 22,000 acres of the Pilot Range in Utah as wilderness.  In his opening remarks on the bill, Rep. Hansen advocated a newly-adopted strategy of designating wilderness in smaller packages, instead of millions of acres at a time, for purposes of efficiency.  When Congress has tried in the past to designate larger areas, the bills have faced much more opposition from a range of interests.  Mr. Fulton of the DOI, who also spoke for H.R. 2385, added his comments.  He expressed his support for the bill, and stated that he would like to work with the subcommittee to revise certain portions of the bill, such as acreage modifications and compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

Another issue addressed by the subcommittee was the proximity of the adjacent Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR) of the US Air Force to the proposed wilderness area.  Incorporated into the bill language are measures to allow the UTTR to continue to function normally.  Colonel Tom Larkin, Director of the UTTR, spoke in support of the bill.  Mr. John Harja, Manager of Legal Analysis in the Governor of Utah's Office of Planning and Budget, added his comments on the bill, along with Mr. Larry Young, Executive Director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  Despite the fact that the bill is adding wilderness acreage, Mr. Young and his organization were still opposed to it for a variety of reasons, including its reduced size from a previous version of the bill and the allowance of continued normal operation of the UTTR.

-CMO


Hearing on H.R. 1461 and H.R. 1491
House Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation, and Public Lands
June 7, 2001

The Bottom Line
On June 7, 2001, the House Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation, and Public Lands met to discuss H.R. 1461 and H.R. 1491.  Testifying before the panel for H.R. 1491 was Rep. Jim Matheson (R-UT), who sponsored the bill, the president of the University of Utah, and a representative from the National Park Service (NPS).  The NPS representative also spoke about H.R. 1461, as did representatives from the Sierra Club and a travel council representative concerned with what he characterized as an unfair advantage that non-profit groups are given in the permit process for national parks in the current version of the bill.  Subcommittee Chairman Joel Hefley (R-CO) opened the hearing by giving a brief explanation of the two bills.

Hearing Summary
H.R. 1491 would direct the Secretary of the Interior to make a grant to the University of Utah to help fund building a new facility to house the University's extensive collection of natural history artifacts.  The sponsor of H.R. 1491, Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT), who is not on the Resources Committee but was speaking on behalf of his state, comprised the first panel.   Resources Committee Chairman James Hansen (R-UT) prefaced Matheson's statement with his own statement of strong support for the bill.

The university currently has a vast collection of over one million archeological, paleontological, biological, and geological objects and specimens of the Intermountain West, which Matheson stated represents over one billion years of history of life on Earth.  However, the current facility that houses the collections is dilapidated, according to Matheson and University of Utah President J. Bernard Machen.  Matheson also informed the committee that 90% of the artifacts come from federal lands, and 75% of them are owned outright by the federal government.  For Matheson and Machen, this raises the issue of whether the federal government should pay a share of the costs of providing them with a proper facility.

Machen echoed Matheson's assessment of the current facility, stating that the unsuitability of the current building threatens the collections.  The museum is not only a university museum but also the state designated museum of natural history.  Machen informed the committee that the university has already secured 20% of the funding needed as well as upkeep costs.  He was confident that they could secure the matching funds provided that the federal government agreed to pay the requested of 25% of the cost, or approximately $15 million.  Matheson also stated that he felt that the federal support would catalyze other funds for the project--75% of the population of Utah lives within 50 miles of the location.

Mr. Richard G. Ring, Associate Director of Park Operations and Education for the National Park Service, spoke to the committee about the agency's opposition to H.R. 1491.  Mr. Ring cited that the money for projects like these historically has come from NPS budgets, and they currently have such a long backlog of projects of their own that they could not afford to lose the funds that would be diverted to the museum project.  He also stated that he thought taking the funding from the NPS for non-park service projects was inappropriate.  Matheson was amenable to this point and mentioned the possibility trying to draw the funding from other sources.

The second bill on the agenda, H.R. 1461, proposes to amend the National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998 to remove the exemption for non-profit organizations from the general requirement to obtain commercial use permits.  The committee then heard from Mr. Ring; Dave Simon, Director of Outdoor Activities for the Sierra Club; and Dan Mastromarco, Executive Director of the Travel Council for Fair Competition on H.R. 1461.  Mr. Simon strongly opposed the bill, citing the non-profit Sierra Club's use for such a measure in providing unique trip experiences for its members.  Mr. Mastromarco stated that he was strongly in favor of H.R. 1461 on the basis of the unfair commercial advantage given to non-profits in the current version of the National Parks Omnibus Management Act.

For the full text of all opening statements and written testimony, see the House of Representatives page for this hearing.

-CMO

Sources: Thomas website, Greensheets, E&ENews, House of Representative webpage, and hearing testimony

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Contributed by Summer 2001 AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Intern Caetie Ofiesh, Summer 2002 AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Interns David Viator and Evelyn Kim, and Margaret A. Baker, Government Affairs Program.

Posted: June 27, 2001; Last Updated October 9, 2002


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