The Friendly Federation

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Southeast Federation
of Mineralogical Societies, Inc.


Southeast Federation of Mineralogical Societies  Board of Directors Meeting

Knight’s Inn, Dillard, Georgia

July 26, 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.



H.R. 554 . Referral to the Committees on Agriculture and the Judiciary extended for a period ending not later than September 12, 2008.   STILL TIME TO CONTACT YOUR REPRESENTIVE  AND TELL THEM THAT THIS IS A "BAD" BILL.

The Paleontological Resources Preservation Act, HR554, was resurrected again earlier this year and approved by the Agriculture and Judiciary committees.  This bill is on a “fast track” for passage and will most likely be voted on by the House of Representatives shortly after their return from summer recess which means September or October unless there is some unforeseen delay.  It appears that a compromise has also been reached for Senate approval.  Two other legislative items of concern this year that are currently being considered by the House of Representatives are HR 2016, National Landscape Conservation System and HR 5610, Designation of Wilderness Areas.  If passed, these bills will essentially place 26 million acres of public lands controlled by BLM under a “National Park” type system which will eliminate or severely limit any type of recreational mining.  The BLM lands that are designated as Wilderness Areas would for all practical purposes be “off limits” for most any type of recreational activity. The information about these legislative items has been widely disseminated to the membership, but they seem to be oblivious to the problems that may result and very little effort has been made to stop their passage.

 The U.S. Forestry Service has dramatically increased its road closure efforts this year.  It is very apparent they have pre-conceived ideas about the areas to be closed before they have any of the required public hearings, which are poorly advertised and largely ignored unless a lot of public pressure is exerted.  Attendance by our members has been extremely poor at the public hearing for road closures conducted by the Forest Service.   The only salvation in this situation is that hunters, fishermen, trail bikers, hikers, campers, and many other outdoor recreational groups are attending in large numbers.  AFMS President, Shirley Leeson, has led an effort to recruit well qualified members of our societies to recommend for positions on several area Forest Service boards.  Highly qualified volunteers were found and their recommendations were supported by this committee.  Information about those recommended for the area boards will not be available from the Forest Service until later in the year.

 Respectively submitted:

                                           John M. Wright, Chairman

QUESTION:  " I thought collecting vertebrate fossils was *already* prohibited.. ."

This is actually correct.

What isn't being made clear is that this subject HR 554 (in its current wording) is the next step towards making INVERTEBRATE fossil collecting prohibited WITHOUT A PERMIT.

In its current wording, this H.R. 554 will authorize the Secretary of the Interior to decide which INVERTEBRATE fossil locality requires a permit for "casual collecting".  Down deeper in H.R. 554 this "authority" becomes even more strongly worded:


(a) Permit Requirement-

(1) IN GENERAL- Except as provided in this Act, a paleontological resource may not be collected from Federal lands without a permit issued under this Act by the Secretary.

(2) CASUAL COLLECTING EXCEPTION- The Secretary MAY ALLOW casual collecting without a permit on Federal lands controlled or administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Forest Service, where such collection is consistent with the laws governing the management of those Federal lands and this Act.
------------ -------

So, you're right. If we already have rules which prohibit the collection of vertebrate fossils, then why do we need this H.R. 554 OTHER THAN TO START THE REGULATION OF CASUAL COLLECTING OF ANY FOSSIL.

Keep that in mind when you write to your US representative.

Forget about collecting vertebrate fossils. It's already prohibited.  Those horses have already left the barn. What you are fighting for now is to KEEP your right to casually collect plant and invertebrate fossils on public lands. 

"We don't need no stinkin' permits!"

Those will only be given to researchers, anyway.  So, we're still talking about an eventual prohibition.

That's why H.R. 554 must be stopped."

(Petrified wood IS a fossil.    So all you wood-a-holics beware.)

John M. Wright, RPG
AFMS Conservation & Legislation Chairman

HR 554 Resurrected Again!

The Paleontological Resources Preservation Act, HR554, has once again this year been resurrected, reviewed, and approved by the Agriculture Committee. It is now currently under review by the House Judiciary Committee and expected to clear that committee by July 18, 2008. This bill is on a “fast track” for passage and will most likely be voted on by the House of Representatives shortly after their return from summer recess which means September or October unless there is some unforeseen delay. I fully expect it to be quickly passed by voice vote, or quietly tacked onto some other major piece of legislation. It appears that a compromise has also been reached for Senate approval. While you may not agree with my assessment of this bill, it is important that we let all our members know that it is back on the table so to speak and hopefully they will take appropriate action

I want to emphatically remind you again, this is a dangerous piece of legislation that is going to hurt a lot of innocent people. The bill is so vague and open to interpretation that you can be arrested, have your vehicle impounded, and be tried for driving on a federal highway with a small rock wedged in the tread of your tires. As I said before, there is no requirement for the arresting officer to be knowledgeable regarding fossils or rocks, the burden of proof is your problem. I wonder what happened to innocent until proven guilty. Does the gravel in your driveway contain fossils? Your neighbor can turn you in for a nice reward. Secret “Area 51” type sites for paleontologist; sounds ridiculous, but unfortunately this bill authorizes it.

Who is going to benefit from this bill? A few inconsiderate paranoid college professors and museum curators that seriously lack the competence to compete in a free market society. Actually, this group is really all about money in the form of job security, grants, books, articles, TV specials, and speaking fees. The fact that more than 90% of the major fossil discoveries are made by amateurs causes symptoms suffered by these “professionals” very similar to a severe case of hemorrhoids.

“We the people” according to the Constitution own the federal lands and support them with our tax dollars, so why should a small special interest group be given exclusive rights to our lands? The justification used by paleontologist is to preserve rare fossils for future generations, but aren’t these the same scholars that warn us that the catastrophic circumstances that led to the demise of the dinosaurs and many other species in the past is going to happen again. They say “it’s not a matter of if, but when,” so according to their own philosophy the prospects for any future generations are not very good.

They say that rockhounds (informed amateurs in their vernacular) destroy sites and remove critical evidence needed by the scientific community. Well, I recently spent several weeks reviewing paleontological articles and publications plus numerous other well known scientific publications covering a span of about 50 years and while I’m sure there must be many references to cleaning up excavation sites, I did not find any. However, I easily found “hundreds” of articles and references about leaving a site “as good as or better than found” in the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies’ monthly Newsletters, the seven area Federations of Mineralogical Societies’ monthly newsletters, and the numerous local Gem & Mineral Societies’ monthly bulletins. It sure seems to me like rockhounds (whoops – informed amateurs) are a little more concerned about conservation and protecting the environment than the scientific community.

Once the scholars and curators acquire “our” fossils from “our” lands, they will be tucked away in storage areas at universities supported by “our” tax dollars, to be studied by students who we as parents “pay” tuitions for, and taught by professors whose salaries are paid by “our” dollars and tuition fees. The museums built with “our” tax dollars and “our” donations will have experts whose salaries are paid by “our” taxes and donations prepare the fossils “owned by us” for display so “we the public” can see them for a “fee.” Talk about a stacked deck!

A lot of politicians have benefited by riding on the environmental bandwagon, but with the price of gasoline skyrocketing, travel, food, utilities, building materials, and almost everything else going up astronomically, being “Green” is becoming more of a political liability than an asset. Someday, they may even come to the realization that people who spend their lives studying petrified bones and dinosaur poop don’t add a lot to the economy.

Another important product of this legislation will be to further enhance the black-market trade. It’s already a lucrative business and this bill will just increase the price of American fossils overseas. With people, merchandise, and tons of narcotics being smuggled freely across our porous borders, moving fossils out of the country shouldn’t pose much of a problem.

It is ironic, but we spend billions of dollars helping other nations gain independence, become democracies, and their people enjoy the benefits of freedom. Unfortunately, the same politicians that appropriate our tax dollars for this noble purpose turn right around and help implement policies to accommodate special interest groups that place far more restrictions on our freedoms here at home.

Time is short to stop or change HR 554. About the only alternative we have left at this stage is to call our representatives and tell them how we feel about this bill. I know that many of you are leery when it comes to talking directly with dignitaries and that it may be difficult for you to contact your Representatives or Senators to talk with them in person. Most of the members of congress maintain offices in their districts and the staff members working for them at these offices are local people. If you call and talk with a member their staff, you will normally find them to be very friendly, courteous and easy to talk with because they want your vote and support. Most importantly, they pass information received from constituents on to their boss. If they get several calls, a red flag, so to speak, goes up indicating areas of importance. Often this is a better way to get the attention of your Representative as he or she wants and needs every vote to stay in office. Constituents usually are more influential than anyone else when dealing with legislators.

I might add a note of interest at this point: our club sends a courtesy copy of our monthly bulletin (which includes my AFMS & SFMS articles) to both our U.S. Senators and our Representative. We have been told that it is well received and appreciated by them.

I am also including a list of the Agriculture Committee members provided by Carolyn Weinberger, Editor of the AFMS Newsletter. It would really help if you called or faxed them, particularly if you live in their congressional district.

Agriculture Committee Members:
Collin C. Peterson, MN, Chairman
Republican Minority
Bob Goodlatte, VA, Ranking Minority Member


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