Interior Releases Fossil Report (10/00)

The following column by GAP Senior Advisor John Dragonetti is reprinted from the October 2000 issue of The Professional Geologist, a publication of the American Institute of Professional Geologists . It is reprinted with permission.

In the fiscal year 1999 Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, the U.S. Senate ordered the Secretary of the Interior to prepare a report assessing the need for a unified federal policy for the collection, storage and preservation of fossils collected on public lands.  Further, the Senate directed several agencies to assist the Secretary in the preparation of this report. These consulting agencies included the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Forest Service (FS), the National Park Service (NPS), the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and the Smithsonian Institution (SI). The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was added to the study group because of their special expertise in paleontology. In addition, South Dakota’s Democratic Senators Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson , both of whom have been involved in the issue of fossils on federal lands for several years, sent a letter to the Secretary asking for recommendations on how to improve the preservation and study of fossils collected on those lands. (See TPG September, 1999, page 10, “The Quest for a Uniform Policy on Fossil Collecting.)

Report Contents
The federal government requested public comments in a Federal Register notice dated May 21, 1999, and during the public meeting held on June 21, 1999, followed by an open comment period. All submitted comments were evaluated by the study agencies. A report entitled “Assessment of Fossil Management on Federal and Indian Lands” was released in May 2000. Federal lands identified in the report were those lands managed by the BLM, BOR, FS, FWS, and the NPS. There were no recommendations concerning Native American lands, since those lands are held in trust to be managed by Native American tribes or individual landowners. Reference was made to the BIA’s lack of authority to manage paleontological resources on these lands, but served solely to assure that any transactions benefited the landowner. Another factor of significance to Native American interests was the requirement that federal agencies managing public lands must comply with the President’s  May 24, 1996 Executive Order on Sacred Sites that protects sacred sites and allows Native Americans access to these sites for ceremonial uses.

Report Principles and Recommendations
The report indicates that fossils have scientific, educational, and commercial value; that protection and management of fossil resources would be greatly enhanced if future congressional and administrative actions were governed by the following seven principles and recommendations:

Despite the stated aim of the report to develop a unified federal policy, the differing mandates, rules and regulations governing the land management agencies for collecting fossils and obtaining scientific collecting permits have resulted in different practices and requirements among the agencies. Therefore, anyone interested in fossil collecting on federal lands should determine what agency has jurisdiction over the land, and communicate directly with the land manager for the particular parcel for which access is sought.
This column is a bimonthly feature written by John Dragonetti, CPG-02779, who is Senior Advisor to the American Geological Institute's Government Affairs Program.

This article is reprinted with permission from The Professional Geologist, published by the American Institute of Professional Geologists. AGI gratefully acknowledges that permission.

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

Contributed by John Dragonetti, AGI Government Affairs.

Posted December 4, 2000

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