Agencies help fossil collectors

  Dear HCN,

We appreciate the attention that High Country News recently gave to fossil ownership, but first, we need to point out that part of the nation's fossil legacy also occurs on land administered by the Forest Service. The Forest Service has been managing fossil localities for years on a case-by-case basis, and began developing a national management strategy last year. The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service are working together closely to ensure that national opportunities and regulations are coordinated across jurisdictional boundaries.

Second, it's just not true that "only college-educated paleontologists can collect fossils on BLM land." BLM regulations allow the public to collect many kinds of fossils for their personal collections, and no permit is required. Permits, issued to people who are trained and educated in collecting fossils and scientific data, are required for scientifically significant specimens such as dinosaurs because of long-standing Department of the Interior policy to hold these specimens in the public trust as part of the nation's natural heritage. Forest Service regulations mirror those of the BLM.

Opinions differ widely on whether, as you report, "current regulations are a mess." Applicants for BLM collecting permits need fill out only a one-page form and supply a summary of their qualifications. Somehow, 37 professional paleontologists managed to do this last year for BLM lands just in Wyoming, and over 200 students, amateurs, children and local visitors worked with them to learn about the history of life on Earth. The Forest Service currently has working arrangements with paleontologists at 13 institutions in Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, plus dozens of others in other states.

Although the article by Heather Abel suggests that the BLM acts primarily to restrict fossil collecting, it is our mission to facilitate field studies in paleontology and foster appreciation of fossils in education and recreation. Under the requirements of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, many fossils are available to all with few restrictions, and the orderly collection of significant specimens and data is enforced to prevent their loss to the scientific community and the American people. The Forest Service acts under similar mandates of the National Forest Management Act. Their intention to conserve the value of the fossil record for the current and future benefit of the American people echoes the mission of the BLM toward fossil resources.

Laurie J. Bryant

and Cathleen L. May

Laurie Bryant is a paleontologist for the BLM in Casper, Wyo., and Cathleen May is program leader of the National Paleontology Center of Excellence for the Forest Service.

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