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In a message dated 96-12-12 12:19:05 EST, Caitlin Kiernan wrote:
> And while my criticism was not directed at landowners, I should add
> that believing that vertebrate fossils are a natural resource that
> must be protected by federal legislation, even when those fossils
> are found on private lands, makes me no more a socialist than my
> conviction that landowners should be prevented from hunting
> endangered species that happen to be living on their property. Or
> that federal air and water pollution regulation apply to their
> land. And so on. And so forth.
Clearly any arguement concerning property owners rights when taken to either
extreme (total rights of the owner or total government rights) becomes one
with which very few pesons could agree.
For instance, few of us would agree that my property rights entitle me to
bury nuclear waste 100 feet from my nearest neighbor, or create a condition
that provides a real threat to public safety in the area. That's why most
communities have laws against obstructions to vision on the corners of
intersections. You may want a high hedge, but at what cost in traffic
accidents? On the other hand few would accept the notion that the government
owns the soluble minerals in the soil and therefore you would not be
permitted to plant crops on your own land since they would deplete those
minerals that took millions of years to accumulate. Most individuals accept
and even enjoy the fruts of mining and private ownership of rare and unique
gems. In the case of endangered species irreversible "harm" results when a
species becomes extinct, so we have regulations protecting them. Even so,
would we be doing a greater good to kill off a few insect species if it meant
the saving of thousands of lives (not withstanding those who would point out
our incompetence to understand and manipulate nature)?? We attempt to wipe
out species every day with mosquito control programs, and even more
fundamentally the entire world is trying to wipe out the Polio virus, forever.
If a particular organism requires a human host do we draft individuals to
harbor it? Which of us volunteers to harbor smallpox or polio?? It is
possible to make anyone's position look foolish by taking it to an extreme.
How then do we decide who owns the rights to fossils?
As a serious amateur I believe that truly rare species ought to be donated to
museums and institutions that will use them to improve our understanding of
the history of life. I conduct myself accordingly, have developed good
relations with a number of well known professional paleontologists, and I
encourage others to do the same but I will also defend any individual's right
not to do so. Yes, I do believe individuals should be allowed to own and sell
fossils, just as I believe individuals should be allowed to own great works
of art, if they can affod them. Appreciation of the unusual, the interesting,
and the beautiful is, after all , one of the things that makes us human.
The argument that the price of fossils makes it impossible for museums to
have them is ridicuous. If that were true, our art museums would be empty.
Art museum curators have become quite successful in a world where individuals
can, and do own great art, yet I'd bet it would be easier for them to have a
law that says all great art is theirs. Does a dinosaur intrinsically belong
to the "people" any more than DaVinci's Codex Leicester? I doubt it. Would
the greater loss be loss of a new diosaur or the Codex even though we already
have the codex in CD-Rom form? I say it's still the codex hands down. I will
tell you the emotional and intellectual impact of seeing the DaVinci's Codex
was far greater on me than any dinosaur ever was, despite the fact that I am
a holpeless fossil fanatic. Like it or not the Codex is the property of Bill
I believe we will never reach agreement on "rights" to fossils if it is an
all or nothing proposition because:
1) the issues are complex
2) an all or nothing decision disenfranchises one group or the other
3) the arguements are emotional and biased toward an individual's personal
position, livelihood and personal philosophy about property
So we can either spend all of our energy fighting to "cut the other guy out"
or we can decide where there are areas of agreement, cooperation, compromise,
and education. Let's figure out what those are and get on with it.