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Since the issue of Sue's disposition (pending) came up in this group, 
attention has again been focused on the regulation (or lack thereof, 
depending on your point of view) of fossil collection and ownership.  The 
activities of the Black Hills Institute and, by extension, those of other 
collectors, have been challenged.  Thanks especially to Paul for keeping us 
informed.  There are critical issues lurking here.  Without diminishing the 
significance of this discussion I offer the following:

The real problem, and the single circumstance having the most devastating 
impact on our fossil heritage, is cows.  Yep, cows.  Armed with the 
clumsiest hooves in the cud-chewing kingdom, and motivated by a seething 
desire to revenge a hundred years of hamburgers,  they have spread to all 
corners of our country.  Spend a few days in the badlands of the West, and 
you will quickly realize that many of our bovine little buddies are munching 
their way (despite the impoverished vegetation) over hill and dale, pasture 
and badland.  Shoot, farmers can rent the range land for nearly nothing from 
the Feds, buy a dozen calves for $32 each, and turn 'em loose.  If the 
coyotes eat them, no big deal; if they live long enough to get to market, 
that's fine too.  

There are more cows in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, TEXAS(!), 
etc. than there are people.  Don't take my word for it, look it up in the 
'90 US Census figures.   Additionally, cows have, in the conduct of their 
usual and customary business, a mission; a calling;  a biological 
imperative, to eat their way to chubbiness.  In the process, they wander all 
over much of the badlands.  Why would a cow do that?  What cow would opt for 
perilous meanderings through the badlands?  Some mysteries are too great, 
even for paleontologists.  (i.e., Why can you always get Country and Western 
music on your radio, even when all other stations are too weak to hear?)

Just about the time gentle rains begin to deliver fossils from their 
Mesozoic resting place, along come teeth-grinding herds of cows to stomp the 
crud out of them.  If that weren't enough, their dropping provide a breeding 
ground for files.  (A recent study by UCBerkeley field-crews documented 80% 
of flies found in the vicinity of a dino dig still had cow dung on their 

It seems to me that those who advocate voluminous regulation of fossil 
collecting should spend at least as much energy looking at the real causes 
of fossil destruction (In addition to cows, there are; construction 
projects; inundation by man-made reservoirs; indiscriminate declarations of 
"off-limits" by various resource management agencies, strip mining, and 
other assorted blather strike) as they do fussing about hypothetical damaged 
done in the name of ''collecting''.  
Joe Small - Amateur Paleontologist &   Editor of 'Bone Bug Journal,
                                       Field Notes':
                                       Twice-monthly newsletter of
bonebug@halcyon.com                    amateur paleontology