The Friendly Federation

Founded to Serve

Southeast Federation
of Mineralogical Societies, Inc.

Words of Caution
AFMS Newsletter, Volume 61, Number 2 , December 2007/January 2008

John Wright
Past President of SFMS
Current Member of the AFMS Conservation/Legislation Committee
Current Mississippi State Representative for the American Lands Access Association Inc.

 Just a few days ago my wife and I returned from a month of traveling in the northeast and it was really a wonderful trip.  Yep, I took my “rock-hammer”, but it never came out of the vehicle, not even when we visited the mines at Herkimer, NY.  Our intentions were changed when we arrived at the mine and found several school buses in the parking lot. It looked like someone had stirred up an ant bed of future rockhounds, so we decided it might be better to just visit the rock shop.  Anyway, our trip was actually to visit some of the early American historical sites and to do some sightseeing in that part of the country. We were not really disappointed that we didn’t get to do any rock-hounding, but we did find a lot of areas where we would like to return to one day for that purpose. The bad part of a trip like ours is that when you return home you find that you are way behind the power curve on things that need to be done. 

 As of this date (remember I write these articles for the newsletter a month in advance) the two Bills in Congress regarding the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act have not been acted on and remain stalled (at least for the time being).  The Senate version (S-320) is on the legislative calendar, but has not been brought up for a vote.  The House version (HR554) is still in committee and I have not yet seen a committee report or a move to bring it to the floor.  Since I had been away for a month and had a temporary computer glitch when I returned, I want to thank Jon Spunaugle for bringing me up to date on this particular issue. 

 With this legislation being stalled we still have a window of opportunity to voice our opposition to members of Congress and I strongly urge you to do so.  Many of you have just assumed your new leadership positions and you are worried about how your year at the helm will turn out.  I know that you have a lot on your plate and now I’m asking you to add more, but we have been blessed with another chance to make a really profound difference.  Will your legacy be that you served the best refreshments, had nice programs, made the most money, or will it be that under your leadership the members of your federation or club help establish a national policy that will guarantee the future of an important part of our hobby and our heritage?  On the other hand we can take the easy way of sitting on our butts, do nothing, and let the opportunity slip by. 

 I know that some of you are wondering why it is so important that we let our feelings be known, I mean after all most of us will probably never find or try to dig up a dinosaur fossil like a Tyrannosaurus Rex or a Brontosaurus.  Actually, we are not even the target of this legislation; the fight so to speak is between the scientific community and private sector with commercial interest.  We fall more or less in the category of “collateral damage”.   The majority of our members believe that fossils with major palentolotical significance should be preserved, but don’t think that picking up a petrified shark’s tooth is going to cause a catastrophic scientific meltdown.  The importance of our involvement is to insure that we do not loose any more of our recreational privileges and to make sure that the laws are sufficiently clear so that we don’t end up with a hefty fine, jail time, or both. For those of you that have little or no interest in fossils, remember one very important thing, most law enforcement personnel do not know one kind of rock from another.  Think about it. 

 If the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act becomes law in it’s present form it will result in major restriction being placed on our activities.  If this act becomes law, will you be comfortable visiting federal lands with the knowledge that someone in your family or field trip group might inadvertently pick up the wrong kind of “rock”?  Do you have fossil exhibits at your shows?  Is this going to stop the commercial exploitation of fossils as intended?  I don’t think so, it will make the fossils even more valuable and while some individuals or smaller entities may be shut down, this is a multi-million-dollar business and many of the prized specimens will be sold on the black market or quietly slipped out of the country to be sold.  Will the Paleontologists gain from this proposed law, maybe, but they will loose a lot of public input and support.  I know that I wouldn’t report a major fossil find because if there is any site damage, I would be a suspect and I don’t want police searching my home.  Think about these issues and while you are at it, I want you to remember “We the People” own these federal lands and our ancestors obtained them with their blood, sacrifice, and unimaginable hardships. We in turn have continued to support these lands often under similar conditions and with the added burden of our hard earned money in tax dollars.  We should not ever consider letting our access to public owned lands or their content (in this case fossils) be restricted or taken away without a fight.

 Bringing this matter to the attention of your membership might create some interest or maybe even a little excitement for a few of minutes, but that will be about as far as it goes.  The only sure way of getting any meaningful effort underway is to make it a club project as I pointed out in my November article.  While individual letters would be best, it requires more effort and higher cost, so the better solution would probably be a club petition.  The document must have the signature, printed name, and address of each individual taking part.  PS: Your petition does not have to be restricted to members only, you may include family members, friends, and most anyone else you can convince to take part.  Politicians are swayed by numbers, so get as many signatures as you possibly can.  I found several petitions on the internet.  The one I personally liked best was by the Gem & Mineral Society of Franklin, North Carolina and it can be found by going to the AFMS internet site and then to the sub-site for Southeast Federation.  The petition is in the Special Interest Column under the title “Paleontological Resources Preservation Act”.  Any letters or petitions used as a format should be re-written to reflect the views of your  club.


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