Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, Who owns these bones?
"Fossils are being destroyed by people who are loving them to death, people who are making a profit." - Bruce Louthan
Bruce Louthan is the district archaeologist for the Moab BLM. He relies on public education to stop fossil looting.
"Amateur collectors are an independent lot. The largest number of paleontological finds after 1900 were made by amateurs - people who say, "I found nirvana out here. I got the world's biggest or funkiest fossil." Amateurs are attracted to things for things. Not science.
"Preserving antiquities and fossils can appear to be an egghead activity to some people. They don't get a gut feeling about it, about why the past is of some consequence. This education job has to go on for a long time.
"We can't quite get (public sentiment against fossil theft) to happen. Like poaching: People may think it isn't right, but they don't want Joe to get hung for it.
"Until people really say this is a crime, things won't change. We have not been able to nail anybody. The rock shops claim that they just buy from other people.
"Paleontologists don't have enough educated supporters. That will change. Adventure tourism and eco-tourism (companies) are starting to do fossil tours with people from all over country, not locals. These people pay fees, are more educated, more sophisticated. They are more supportive of protective measures. They realize fossils are being destroyed by people who are loving them to death, people who are making a profit.
"Locally, there is a move to develop a national or state park to protect the Utahraptor site. It has been exploited by illegal digging. This interest locally will lead to positive progress. Eventually the public will say, 'We need to figure out what is worth preserving.' "