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Re: Baucus Bill



>I have a colleague who is interested in knowing the history, progress and
>current status of the Vertebrate Paleontological Resources Protection Act
>(The Baucus Bill)

HISTORY
-------
1987 - NAS (National Academy of Sciences) report contains 10
recommendations for Federal Land Management agencies to follow
in regulating fossil collecting on public lands. This report was the
result of a three-year study which investigated all aspects of the
issues surrounding the regulation of fossil collecting on public lands.

1987 - Sec. of the Interior, Donald Paul Hodel's letter to J. Bennett
Johnston, Chair of Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
In this letter, Sec. Hodel states "The NAS report has been completed...
We therefore plan to develop and publish new proposed rules, during
fiscal year 1988, that will provide for the management and protection
of paleontological resources consistent with the NAS recommendations.

1988 - Sen. Larry Pressler offers amendment to the 1988 Appropriations Act.
..none of the funds provided by the Act shall be expended by the Sec.
of the Interior to promulgate regulations concerning paleontological
collecting on federal lands which are contrary to the 1987 published
recommendations of the [NAS Committee].

1989-1990 Negotioted Rulemaking Process initiated by BLM & USFS
Members of the amateur, commercial, and academic paleontological
communities met with representatives of the BLM, USFS, USGS, State Geol.
Surveys, museums, and amateur and professional associations to arrive at a
consensus of proposed regulations governing fossil collecting on public
lands. These proposed regulations were never published in the federal
register as the participants were promised. Sources within the BLM and
USFS claim that the Dept. of Interior stopped the publication.

1992 - In a blindsiding maneuver that acted as a wakeup call to amateur 
fossil and mineral groups nationwide, senator Max Baucus introduced his 
now infamous "Baucus Bill". This bill would have made collecting on US
lands off-limits to all amateurs and commercial collectors. This piece
of legislation was contrary to much of the NAS report, and flew right in
the face of those groups who had been working closely with academics
and federal agencies to draft some sensible legislation. Massive
protests from all all sides, academic, amateur and commercial 
managed to kill this bill in committee.

PROGRESS
--------
1993 - Using the NAS recommendations as a blueprint, the PRPA bill 
is authored. In the House of Representatives, Tim Johnston and
Joe Skeen agree to be prime sponsors. Prime sponsors in the Senate
are also sought. This Bill is also referred to as the ALAA bill
(American Lands Access Ass'n.), the "Amateur" Bill, or the "House" Bill.

1994 - In yet another blindside maneuver, the  USFS(the Forest Service)
proposed a set of new rules to prohibit *all* fossil/mineral collecting 
on FS land. Once word got out,  hundreds of thousands of protests from
across the country persuaded the FS to withdraw the proposed rules.
The suspicions aroused by the Baucus fiasco of 1992 and these proposed
collecting bans by the FS served to feed the momentum for a grass-roots
bill(the PRPA/ALAA) to ensure citizens right to collect on public lands.

Meanwhile, the Baucus Bill supporters try a new strategy. Realizing there
is no hope for their legislation unless they can get amateur support, they
release new drafts of their bill which still prohibits commercial activity, 
but allows amateurs to do some collecting as long as they apply for and 
are granted "Permits". Of course, if your "Permit" is not in order, you 
are guilty of a felony with 2 years in federal prison and $20,000 fine 
for each violation...

1995 - Senator Larry Craig considers prime sponsorship of the PRPA bill.
The prime sponsors in the House are lined up and the bill is ready for
parallel introduction in the House and Senate. If you have never contacted
your representative or Senator before, this would be the time to do it.
There is some grass-roots history in the making here. It seemed impossible
a few years ago, but the Baucus and USFS shenannigans seems to have
consolidated alot of support for the ALAA efforts. Almost all amateur and
professional rock, mineral, and fossil groups support this bill.

This Bill(also called the ALAA Bill or the FPA) is based on the
National Academy of Science findings, and thus has strong support
in the greater scientific community as well. The amateur public 
strongly supports it because it treats them like responsible amateur 
collectors and not potential felons to be monitored and surveilled 
as they access public lands.

CURRENT STATUS
--------------
Debates will be heating up again in the near future as the Baucus-backers
come out of the woodwork once again to condemn the buying, selling
and trading of fossils as immoral acts, so heinous as to require the 
draconian felony sanctions that they propose in their bill.

The fatal flaw in the Baucus logic is that they completely ignore the major
threat to fossil resources(i.e. erosion). We've seen how eager they are to
prosecute fossil commerce, while sticking their heads in the sand when
confronted with the fact that the largest single consumer of fossils is
Mother Nature with over 99% annually. Ask any Baucus-backer whether
erosion poses a serious threat to fossil resources, and then observe the
pathetic, intellectually-bankrupt squirming that follows. Furthermore,
buying, selling and trading of specimens is desirable for many reasons.
Museums, public institutions and private collectors all have the same
scientific interest in diversifying their collections for reference
and study purposes. 

The Baucus-backers do make some good points about ethics. Fossils
should be collected in a responsible fashion. Records and documentation
should be given high priority. You can never know too much about
collecting/preparation techniques and methodology. I think most people
agree on these from an ethical standpoint. It's the restricted/monitored
land access provisions of Baucus(totally unscientific) as well as the
outrageous felony sanctions that unite amateurs in opposition.
The Baucus Bill guarantees destruction by weathering of all surface
fossils that the limited taxpayer dollars cannot afford to collect. It
strictly forbids any commercial collecting and hogties amateurs with
a still undescribed permit scheme.

The Baucus Bill represents a classic victory of politics over science.
It's hard to believe that otherwise decent scientists will look you in
the eyes and claim that it's better to allow fossils to erode into dust
than allow amateurs or commercial ventures to collect them.

WAKE UP!! It costs real money to get fossils from the field to display.
As soon as you realize that there aren't enough taxpayer dollars to fund
some grandiose paleo program, you start to look for ways to pay for the
rescue of at least a portion of the tonnage lost to erosion annually. Are
there commercial ventures willing to absorb the costs and take the risks?
Are they qualified? The answer is yes to both questions. 

The proof is all over the place. SUE the T. rex was a classic example of 
private-public cooperation until Baucus-fundamentalists joined forces with 
Federal agencies to stop it. Currently, Triebold Paleontology is working 
closely with Dale Russell and several other noted scientists from various 
museums to do the absolute best job possible describing SANDY, the finest 
Pachy skeleton ever found. The reason SUE or SANDY even exist is because 
hard working and talented commercial ventures went out in the field, found 
them, bought them, excavated them and prepared them. No taxpayer $$ were 
necessary to deliver these wonderful contributions to the scientific 
community. The Baucus-backers frequently accuse commercial fossil dealers 
of putting profit over science. In reality it is the Baucus-backers who 
consistently place science in the backseat while politics reigns supreme. 
Baucus-backers usually refuse all offers to interact with the commercial 
community, science be damned. Thank goodness that many and perhaps most
of their collegues at museums are a little more in touch with reality.

Even more important to me are the implications for amateurs of any proposed
legislation. To be acceptable to amateurs the bill must include permit-free
access to public lands for casual surface collecting. We need to unleash
not only commercial collectors but *especially* amateur hunters in large
numbers if we are going to get serious about rescuing valuable fossils
from the destructive forces of weathering. We should make an effort to
share any significant fossil discoveries with the public and the scientific
community, but we should *not* be under threat of felony sanction to do so.

Write your congressmen.
Say NO to "Permits" for casual collecting. Say NO to first-offense felonies.
   or.......just Say NO to Baucus and kill both birds with one stone.......
Say YES to PRPA/ALAA/FPA  and your right to collect on public lands.

-Paul