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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)

Currently the VPRPA has been put on hold as attempts are made to defeat the 
Tim Johnson (SD) sponsored Fossil Protection Act of 1995. The Society of 
Vertebrate Paleontology is putting all its effort into ensuring that the 
FPA is not passed into law because it will open up all Federal Lands to 
commercial collectors. The FPA is a revamped version of a bill put forward 
some time ago by the American Lands Access Association, an organization 
that was reported to be working out of the Black Hills Institute, so you 
can be sure that they have the public's interest as their foremost 
objective (I think perhaps not). The ALAA-generated FPA of '95 is wholly 
inadequate. It will permit the public and commercial entities to collect 
vertebrate fossils from Federal Lands with no regard for context or 
scientific value. According to the FPA, fossils that occur "on the surface" 
are of no scientific or commercial value. Anyone who has walked around 
looking for fossils knows that this is nonsense. That's exactly how I found 
the only neonate dinosaurian remains known from the Lower Cretaceous - by 
picking them off the surface of BLM land. Under the FPA such a find would 
end up on someone's mantle or be offered for sale to the highest bidder. 
(The specimens that I found and published are curated in the Museum of the 
Rockies, Montana State University, and therefore still in the public domain 
where all fossils collected from public lands should remain.)

Essentially the FPA will permit commercial collectors to work on Federal 
Lands, but it states that the commercials will allow Museums the right of 
first refusal on specimens of special interest. For those of you who may 
not know, all vertebrate specimens occurring on Federal lands are the 
property of all of the people of the USA. So, in effect, the FPA will 
reduce us to the sorry state of watching our public museums spend public 
funds to obtain specimens for public display, said specimens already the 
property of the viewing public!

The FPA of 1995 is riddled with inconsistencies, inaccuracies, unfeasible 
ideas, and more than a little bias towards a few individuals who don't give 
a damn about science, but are more concerned with financial aggrandizement. 
I've done a lot of field work and I've watched several commercial firms 
going about their business. All of them were "trophy hunting" and most 
couldn't even spell the word taphonomy. Of course, I rush to point out that 
not all commercial collectors are so cavalier in the field, but there's no 
telling me that we're not going to lose specimens and data if this 
particular group of individuals is let loose on Federal Lands.

I have a rough copy of the FPA of '95 and a list of reasons why it should 
not be passed into law in anything like its current form. If you would like 
to see either or both let me have your snail-mail address and I'll be happy 
to send them out, along with the addresses of various Senators and 
Congresspersons to whom you can write. It's my opinion that passage of the 
FPA will damage the future of vertebrate paleontology in this country, but 
you should have a read at these materials and make up your own mind. If you 
decide that you agree with me, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology will 
welcome your letter-writing/calling/faxing efforts to help defeat a piece 
of legislation that is fundamentally-flawed and designed not to increase 
public access to fossils, but rather to ensure that certain people are 
provided an opportunity to make money by selling-off a national treasure 
that is already the property of all of the people of the United States.

W. Desmond Maxwell
Member, SVP Government Liaison Committee