The Friendly Federation

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Southeast Federation
of Mineralogical Societies, Inc.

Words of Caution
AFMS Newsletter, Volume 61, Number 3 , FEBRUARY OF 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.


For the past 15 to 20 years warnings about the probability that legislation similar to the current  Paleontological Resources Preservation Act now being considered by Congress was expected.  The warnings have for the most part been ignored or arbitrarily dismissed and not passed on to the majority of our members.   It seems that 

the prevailing mindset is “that someone else is suppose to take care of these types of problems”. 

I know at the club level, legislative matters are so uninteresting and boring; after all there are so many much more important priorities like refreshments, field trips, programs, the annual shows, etc.,  that just have to be addressed. Most of our area federation and club editors don’t even consider articles about pending legislation newsworthy enough to be included in their publications, not even when they are in a pinch for filler material. At best the legislative articles in the AFMS Newsletters and ALAA bulletins   receive only a cursory glance most of the time.

 So legislative matters are boring; well, while it’s doubtful, let me see if I can generate a little interest.  Lets go back to the Palentological Resources Preservation Act (Senate version S320 and House version HR554). First of all this proposed law is based on the premise that “all vertebrate fossils are rare”.  This is simply not true.   Vertebrate fossils are found in abundance all over the world.  The United States alone has billions of shark’s teeth and Dr. Charles Love, a noted Paleontologist, estimated that in just a one-half mile area of the Green River Formation in southern Wyoming, there are enough fossil fish specimens to provide two for each man, woman, and child who live on this earth.  Even the coveted dinosaur fossils are really not that rare and more are constantly being discovered. All museums large or small, public and private with an earth science interest have dinosaur fossils in whole or at least in part.  I also understand that there are some institutions that have owned prize

 specimens for many years, yet have made no attempt to study or prepare them for display.

 So the premise for this legislation is in principle  based on a “lie” purposefully perpetrated by a small group of charlatans to cheat the American public out of their rightful heritage that insures   the freedom of access to public lands they own and support.  The really disturbing part of this ploy is that these charlatans were actually able to recruit legislative nitwits as sponsors.  This sheer arrogance and unmitigated disregard for the rights of American citizens in this absurd legislative proposal  is  absolutely amazing!  It makes you wonder what rock these esteemed members of our society crawled out from under.

 If this proposed legislation is passed and enacted in it’s present form,  a mechanism is going to be  in place that could  ultimately be used to restrict our access to public lands not only for hunting fossils, but for most any other kind of activity.  Section 2 of the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act as currently written  allows  “recreational or casual collecting using hand tools  in certain areas”.  “These areas will be designated by the Secretary of the Interior” who happens to be  a bureaucrat and more than likely will have no idea of where these areas are; so  actually  some local surrogate will ultimately makes the decision on the areas that will be available to the public. While these recreational or casual collecting areas sound good, in reality they are just going to provide some “crumbs” to dupe the public while most areas will be placed  “off limits” except for the select few.  Under  Section 10 of this bill any  sites that contain palentological resources will be “kept secret” and  since the proposed legislation does not provide for  any type of public oversight, it makes you wonder what other discoveries might also be kept secret.

 Sections 7 and 8 of the proposed bill establishes some pretty tough penalties. Pick up one of the billions of shark’s teeth on federal lands and you could go to jail, pay a hefty fine, loose your vehicle and anything else you have with you including your underwear. PS: There are no requirements for the  enforcement  official that issues a citation to be an expert in paleontology or even be familiar with different kinds of rocks.

The burden of proof is going to be on you, which means attorney’s fees, other related cost, and the possibility of having your vehicle impounded for a prolonged period. 

 Another special added proviso contained in the bill is the “grandfather clause” in Section 7(d), which exempts owners of vertebrate fossils from penalty if the fossils were lawfully obtained prior to the date the proposed legislation is enacted.  Now that is downright decent, except for one small legal technicality that I mentioned in the previous paragraph called “burden of proof”.  If you own any vertebrate fossils, be sure that you have absolute proof that you acquired them legally.  Even with undeniable proof be careful, because the bill also contains a provision for rewarding snitches.  Owning fossils of any kind and particularly vertebrate fossils may in the future  result in  a lot of heartburn and possibly a lot of expense.

 Fossils are a substantial part of the businesses associated with our hobby.  If this law is enacted, many of the rock shops around the country are expected to go out of business.  Think about the dealers at your gem and mineral shows; while exclusive fossil dealers are few, most of the dealers offer some fossils for sale.   They can only sell so much of the other items in their inventory, so how do you think they are going to make up for the slack? A lot of the exhibits at our shows are fossils.  If enacted, this bill is going to affect you even if you don’t have an interest in fossils.

 These are the facts as I see them and have  explained  them to you in the  above  paragraphs.

Who loses if this proposed legislation is passed? We do and many more like us.  Okay – what are we going to do about it? Write letters to our congressional representatives or sit back and do nothing?  If we do nothing, when the hammer falls so to speak, we will have no justification or reason to cry about, because it will be our own fault.  Think about it!


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