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Re: US Fossil Collections

*** Resending note of 04/04/95 10:59
To: MNHAD002--SIVM     Multiple recipient

Hey gang: Here is a note from the VRTPALEO list which is part of a number
of responses to the note that was also sent here that was written by Zenker
which was, in my opinion, one of the most distortive and badly researched
pieces of work I've ever seen. As you might recall, it had lots of bold
FACT: and FICTION: statements and was a blatant attempt to drive a wedge
between amateurs and professionals. The discussions basically destroyed
the statements made by Zenker and argued that what was being constructed
was a straw man that did not reflect reality in any way. There are interesting
notes on the bills being considered on fossil collecting. If there is
interest I'm sure we can discuss this further. Let me just add that all
professionals I know very truly value amateurs and want to work with them.
Some of us wish we had more hours in a day ....

Anyway, here goes...

>From: The Vertebrate Paleontology Community discussion list

Date:         Tue, 4 Apr 1995 09:42:35 -0500
Reply-To:     The Vertebrate Paleontology Community discussion list
Sender:       The Vertebrate Paleontology Community discussion list
>From:         Anne Walton <AWALTON@ACS.TAMU.EDU>
Subject:      Re: US Fossil Collections
To:           Multiple recipients of list VRTPALEO <VRTPALEO@USCVM.BITNET>

I am happy to see the issue of fossil collection on public lands and relations
between professionals and amateurs has not faded away.  It has been three weeks
since Marion Zenker's sheet of pseudo-"facts" circulated on this list.  I was
dissappointed that there was not more of an outcry, or at least more of an
effort to set the record straight. I am grateful to Saunders and Brown for
addressing the issues directly.

For the record:
Marion Zenker and the American Lands Access Association work out of the same
offices as the Black Hills Institute of Geologic Research, an outfit of
commercial fossil collectors that has been prominent in the news lately for the
illegal collection of a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil from reservation land.
Zenker's list of "fossil facts and fallacies" was not an unconsidered outburst,
but part of a well-organized campaign to gain the support of amateur
paleontologists for legislation that opens public lands to commercial fossil

For the record:
The ALAA drafted the "Paleontological Resources Preservation Act" (PRPA),
sponsored by congressmen Johnson (SD) and Skeens (NM), in part to counteract
the Vertebrate Paleontological Resources Protection Act (VPRPA), sponsored by
Senator Max Baucus (MT). Both bills will probably be introduced this year.

The bills are in many ways very similar.  Both would make it possible for
amateurs to collect fossils on public lands, which is presently a misdemeanor.
Both emphasize the scientific and educational importance of fossils.  The
differences between the bills reflect their authorship.  PRPA establishes a
commercial fossil collecting permit, with the provision that museums have the
right of first refusal for any fossils "of scientific value" recovered by
commercial acitivities (though the price on such a fossil would supposedly be
set by the collector).  Penalties for permit violations are weak.  The bill
repeatedly emphasizes that fossils are the PROPERTY of the collector, to be
bought, sold, or done with as they please.  VPRPA, in contrast, emphasizes that
fossils from public lands and held in trust by the collector, and should remain
in the public domain. Because its goal is to make it possible for land managers
to better control theft and fraud, penalties are stronger.

I am as disturbed as Saunders and Brown by the misinformation about these bills
that is in circulation, mainly in a disingenuous effort to drive a wedge
between the amateur and professional communities.  I have seen Zenker's "fact
and fallacy" sheet in several newsletters for amateur organizations.
Amazingly, the rhetoric of "land-owner rights" and "free enterprise" has been
tied up with legislation that applies only to public lands and has nothing to
do with private lands. VPRPA is being presented as the evil effort of those
greedy professionals to keep all the toys for themselves, to the exclusion of
the amateurs - with no mention that the increasing commercialization of fossils
will do amateurs no favors.

How many of us can even tell "amateurs" from "professionals" anyway?  Today I'm
superficially a professional, but I have been an amateur and probably will be
one again. The spectrum of skills may be slightly narrower among those with
advanced degrees, but no community - "amateur", "professional", or "commercial"
- has any monopoly on greed, stupidity, or well-intentioned clumsiness. So when
I use these terms, I use them for lack of anything better, knowing how
arbitrary and artificial they are.

I agree with Greg Brown that the commercial lobby has been far more effective
at communicating with amateur organizations than those of us who oppose the
commercialization of natural history materials.  But that does not mean we are
without resources.  We teach students.  We work with volunteers in museums.  We
address amateur and professional organizations. We communicate on the Internet.
On this listserver we are mainly preaching to the choir, but many of us also
subscribe to other list servers, and can attempt to voice our concerns there.

Legislation in some form is inevitable. Directly or indirectly, it will affect
us all.  If we choose to hise in our collections and do nothing, we will get
the legislation we deserve!

For those who would like to compare VPRPA and PRPA for themselves, I have
copies of both bills (the versions as of 12/94) and other materials I will be
happy to send you.

408 Poplar Street
College Station, Texas  77840