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I'm going to try and comment on this topic and still somehow skate on
the edge of the apparent volatility that has developed IMHO unnecessarily.
I come from the direction of having been an avid amateur collector when
I was young and through my college days. I dealt with some commercial
sellers to fill gaps in my collections which I was assembling as a teaching
collection (in my head, anyway). I stopped really adding to it when I went
to graduate school, although have certainly collected a bit since then -
the fossils just went to school or museum collections. I'm still trying
to get around to getting all my stuff together for donation to the USNM
but time keeps killing me. I can happily say I even collected some very
rare stuff including a handfull of Synxiphosurids, a eurypterid that was
almost 2 feet long and oddball stuff like machaeridian plates and lots
of echinoderms and, especially trilobites (my favorites).
Now, there has been an apprarent attempt to drive a wedge between the
amateur collector and professionals which just doesn't exist except for
some unscrupulous people. Lots of professionals spend an awful lot of their
time with amateurs and nuturing great relations with them. I plan to spend a
lot more time with them over the next few years myself, as well as get out
more. When I was an amateur, professionals were always very helpful and,
although sometimes too busy, never were anything but nice. The problems at
that time were some commercial collectors - and I reallllllly emphasize
some and not even close to most or all - that would go into great outcrops
and trash them by collecting them totally out. Lots of good outcrops bit the
dust when that happened. I rarely ran into amateurs that did anything near
that and were anything worse than obnoxious. The vast majority were great to
run into and continue to be such now that I'm in a different position.
The important thing to remember about the Baucus Bill, as I read the copy
I saw, is that it only deals with federal/public land. Nothing else - no
matter how much of the fear of God some people want to stick into amateurs.
In fact, it would allow more legal collecting by amateurs on that land than
currently happens now. I would like to see the other bill but have not as
yet so will not comment on that comparatively.
The big thing in the bill is that it just continues and states more directly
that commercial enterprises cannot collect on that land - which is illegal
right now anyway. So the only individuals that have any compaining rights
may be the commercial collectors but amateurs should not be pushed into
misuderstanding by those who imply otherwise. If we can get a copy available
electronically then we can check that yet again, but the version I saw
was quite specific and was purposely loosened up from an earlier version.
So, the only discussion that really needs to be on going is how and if
commercial collectors should have, if any, access to public lands.
I don't know the answer. I think we need to have professionals and commercial
collectors sit down and try and figure out what can be done. Perhaps soemthing
like allowing licensed commercial collectors to collect on public land under
the proviso that the original and a cast of material must go to a public
accessible museum that fits the proper bill for what is needed for scientific
use. Perhaps the commercial collectors then pay their bills by selling
all other casts and imaging rights outside of scientific publications.
Amateurs should be represented as well in these discussions, I suspect.
As a professional, sure it would be nice to have extra eyes out there but
since professionals cannot compete with commercial collectors as far as
paying land-owners for use, there needs to be areas where collection for
scientific advancement is paramount - so we need to figure out how to
get everything out of public land - more fossils that are available for
long-term scientific study. If an auxillary result is that there are also
a lot of casts of new and exciting specimens being made available by some
commercial enterprises, then I wouldn't be bothered. We just can't have
important fossils - and all articulated dinosaur material fits this bill
with very few exceptions - wind up as trophies in the offices of people
who think they're pretty.
So, to wind up this long-winded comment, yes we need to make the professional
amateur connection even better but it is not worthy of the wedges some are
trying to push into it. There are good commercial collectors and these must
be the ones to discuss how to allow them to work and augment and not hinder
scientific advancement. On other lists there has been discussion of the
main collector in England who has worked very well with Academia and I
suspect it's going on here more than most know. We just must stop the
hyperbole and distortion. When I was an amateur there were good and bad
commercial collectors and that has remained unchanged now that I'm a
professional. I think we just need to have ideas rather than distortive
reaction - wherever it comes from in the triad of collectors we have.
Ralph Chapman, NMNH