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FAQ: Fossil collecting

It may be reasonable to include procedures for fossil collecting with our
dinosaur FAQ. To that end, I offer the following. It was prepared by David
Traxler, son-in-law to Marion Brandtvolt. Marion and her husband are
recognized as being instrumental in leading Jack Horner to Egg Mountain.

Otherwise, here it is for the sake of general interest.


Fossil Collecting Rules and Regulations
prepared and summarized by
The Old Trail Museum
Choteau, Montana
Revised July 1, 1994

According to several rulings in various courts over the years, it is clear
that fossils are considered part of the land they are found in. Thus, the
person or group who owns THE LAND owns any fossils found on or in the

There are four basic land ownership types in the United States: Privately-
owned, State-owned, Federally-owned, and Reservation land. Each of these
types of land has its own set of rules for the legal collection of fossils.
These rules are summarized below.

1. Privately-Owned Land.
Fossils are owned by the landowner. A person must have permission from
the landowner to be on the land, and the landowner must transfer
ownership of the fossils, preferably by written record, if the fossil is to
be owned by someone besides the landowner.

2. State-Owned Land.
Fossils are owned by the State. In Montana, no fossils may be collected on
state lands without a permit, and permits are issued only to qualified
paleontologists working for museums or universities. Other States have
different rules; check with the State Lands Commissioner of the
appropriate State for current policy.

3. Federally-Owned Land.
The rules for fossil collecting on federal lands are different for each
administrative agency. For Bureau of Land Management land, invertebrate
or plant fossils may be collected without a permit if they are surface
material. Excavation of any fossil or collection of a vertebrate fossil
requires a permit. The permit is issued only to qualified paleontologists,
and the specimen must remain in a public repository once it is collected.
Other agencies of the federal government have different rules; check with
the appropriate agency for the most current policy.

4. Reservation Land.
By most treaties with the various Indian Nations, the reservations are not
part of the United States. They are, rather, sovereign nations under the
protectorate of the United States. Collection of any material from
reservation land involves permission from the landowner, the Bureau of
Indian Affairs, and the Tribal Council.


Thanks to Carole DeFord who sent this to me from working in the field in

*=- -=*=- -=*=- -=*=- -=*=- -=*=- -=*=- -=*=- -=*=- -=*=- -=*=- -=*=- -=*
 Douglas E. Goudie                  To know all things is not permitted.
 ac941@leo.nmc.edu                               -- Horace (65 - 8 B.C.)