Summary of Hearings on Fossils (6-27-03)
- June 10, 2003: US Senate Committee on
Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks
Hearing on S. 546.
- June 19, 2003: US House Resource Subcommittees
on Fisheries and Forests Joint Hearing on H.R. 2416
Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and
Oceans and Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health
Joint Hearing on H.R. 2416, a Bill to Provide for the Protection
of Paleontological Resources on Federal Lands
June 19, 2003
Rep. James McGovern (D-MA)
Robert Lamb, U.S. Department of the Interior
Catherine A. Forster, State University of New York, Society of Vertebrate
Ted J.Vlamis, Amateur Paleontologist
The House Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife
and Oceans and Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health met jointly
on June 19, 2003, to hold a hearing on H.R.
2416 that addresses the protection of paleontological resources
on federal lands. The hearing was chaired by Rep. Scott McInnis (R-CO).
The bill was introduced by Rep. James McGovern (DMA), who also testified
at this hearing. Additional witnesses represented the administration
and both professional and amateur paleontologists. All witnesses supported
H.R. 2416 and especially welcomed the stronger proposed penalties
for fossil theft and vandalism.
In his statement, McGovern testified that his bill includes "stiff
penalties" for crimes of theft and vandalism of fossils, but
is aimed only at those seeking to profit illegally from fossil collection.
He wrote no new regulations for amateur paleontologists or for "casual
collectors," visitors to the public lands who are seeking common
invertebrate and plant fossils. The bill also would not affect private
collections already in existence or excavations on private lands.
McGovern stipulates in his bill that any protected fossils must be
curated at a museum or "suitable depository," part of the
standardized permitting proposals for excavation and ownership. McGovern
expressed that his interest in this issue stems from his 5 year-old
son's love of dinosaurs and fascination with fossils.
Catherine Forster addressed the committee on behalf of the Society
of Vertebrate Paleontology in support of the bill, and also made reference
to its support by the American Association of Museums. Forster voiced
concerns that the "heightened public interest" in the field
of paleontology has also led to the "increased commercialization
of fossils" through black market trade. She also explained that
the rocks that fossils are found in are also invaluable sources of
contextual data about the environment that the fossilized animals
lived in. Forster supports the stiffer penalties and more regulated
permitting as a deterrent to theft and vandalism of paleontological
resources on public lands. Forster's sentiments were later echoed
and echoed by Ted J. Vlamis from the viewpoint of an amateur paleontologist.
Rep. Tom Udall (D-NM) urged Rep. McGovern to add clarifying language
regarding the protection of Native American Sacred Sites, voicing
concern that the bill might infringe on Native Americans' rights to
harvest rocks used in religious ceremonies if they contain fossils.
Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) asked Forster what stops the scientific community
from selling fossils on the black market, to which she replied by
explaining the science community's standard of ethics regarding such
actions and the pains that museums and depositories go through to
properly catalogue and track collected fossils and those loaned out
Witnesses' testimonies and committee members' opening
statements are available at the committee
Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
Subcommittee on National Parks
Miscellaneous Parks Bills
June 10, 2003
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, (D-DC)
D. Thomas Ross, Assistant Director for Recreation and Conservation,
National Park Service, Department of the Interior
Christopher Kearney, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management
and Budget, Department of the Interior
Elizabeth Estill, Deputy Chief for Programs, Legislation and Communication,
Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture
On June 10, 2003, the Senate Energy
and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks held a hearing
on several National Park bills. The witnesses' written testimonies
are available online at the committee's
website. Of particular interest to geoscientists, the senators
present heard testimony on S.
546, the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act. A similar
2727, passed the Energy and Natural Resource Committee in the
107th Congress. In his opening statement, Senator Daniel K. Akaka
(D-HI), who introduced the bill in March 2003, said that the bill's
purpose is to set a consistent federal policy to protect fossil resources
at the same time allowing casual collecting for a wide variety of
plant and common invertebrate fossils. The bill also will "develop
a plan for inventorying, monitoring, and deriving the scientific and
educational use of such resources" and "will establish a
program to increase public awareness about the significance of paleontological
resources." Akaka said he has received letters supporting the
bill from many organizations including the Society
of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Christopher Kearney testified that S. 546 would codify
the collection permitting process to ensure that fossils are retained
as public property and organized in a repository for scientific use.
He continued by saying that the casual collecting permit exemption
was an important provision because it provides an opportunity for
the public's enjoyment of federal lands and educational goals. He
also said that the bill would provide criminal penalties to protect
paleontological resources against theft and vandalism. Kearney said
that the Department of the Interior (DOI)
supports the bill's purpose but recommends specific amendments on
the bill's language, judicial review process, and fee assessment and
Elizabeth Estill testified that National
Forest Service is in great need for paleontological resource management
and protection. S. 546 would provide a consistent statutory framework
that would clarify and define laws and penalties. She continued by
saying that under current policy the management and penalty enforcement
of paleontological resources are defined in a complex mixture of laws
and regulations. Estill said that the Department of Agriculture (USDA)
supports the bill's purpose but it has concern regarding language
defining award amounts and payments. Estill said that the USDA recommends
that references to any specific dollar amount be removed. Estill said
that the USDA supports the DOI amendments and if the reward section
of the bill was clarified, the USDA would support the bill.
Sources: Hearing testimony.
Contributed by Deric R. Learman and Emily Scott, Summer 2003 AGI/AIPG
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on June 27, 2003