[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]

Re: DINOSAUR digest 915



Cory Gross of the Alberta Paleontology Society recently wrote:

" In alberta, ALL fossils collected belong to the government of 
Crown...Individual collectors are only the stewards of the finds, and 
these finds can be repossessed by the goernment whenever they feel like 
it...Taking fossils out of the province is also banned.  And...SURFACE 
COLLECTING only...If the bone police catch you in the field with a 
spade, then you're screwed."
"IMHO, this is a very good system..."

    Like Jeff Polings, I question Cory's conclusion, but would go even 
further.  I think the law is horribly bad.  I think it and any 
legislation like it will have an oppressive and counterproductive 
effect on paleontology for the following reasons:
    Such a law severely curtails amateur collecting and reconnaisance.  
This is not just bad for the many amateurs and students of paleontology 
(such as myself) who enjoy the collection and study of fossils, but 
will result in a sharp decrease in donated material and new finds.
Historicall most new site and taxa discoveries have been bade by 
amateurs, who far outnumber professionals.  Moreover, many are 
interested in the scientific imnportance of fossils, and often bring 
unusual or rare fossils to the attention of professionals, or donate 
them outright.  Professionals cannot fill the gap. There are not nearly 
enough professionals to collect even a fraction of the fossils exposed 
each year.  Without active help from others, such laws will not protect 
most fossils, but will guarantee that thousands which would have been 
collected by nonprofessionals will just ROT on the ground.  Yes, a 
strict law may mean a few less fossils are "lost" to private 
collections or improper collection, but MANY MORE would be lost to 
erosion and noncollection if the amateurs were not actively collecting. 
    It is also easy to demonize commercial dealers, but even many of 
them are interested in science, and for their own ego if not other 
reasons, often bring important specimens to the attention of 
scientists.  They also are just as willing to sell the specimens to 
museums as anyone else--often at a cost less than if the museum mounted 
an expediation of its own, with no guarantee of even finding a 
comparable specimen.  Witness for example the immense contributions to 
paleontology and numerous museum collections from the free-lance work 
of the prolific Sternberg family in the late 1980's and early 1900's.  
    Of course some amateurs and commercial outfits do not always 
document or prepare specimens as well as they should, but I can say the 
same about some professionals.  And many amateurs do a fine job at 
documentation and prep--sometimes BETTER than many proessionals). And 
at any rate, the imporant point is that many of the finds WOULD NEVER 
HAVE BEEN MADE under more restrictive laws.  Instead most would have 
the lost to erosion and non-collection.  I hope most professionals do 
not consider that the better alternative.      
   And of course many specimens collected by nonprofessionals go 
directly or eventually toward educational ends.  Many are used by 
schools and individual teachers, museum shops and ed departments.   
Even those private collections initially sequested from view eventually 
wind up in museums or colleges when the owners die.   
    The bottom line is that if amateur collecting is severely 
restricted,  the number of fossils contributed to science would 
decrease dramatically.  I do not have any figures (and wonder if anyone 
does), but I would bet a month's salary that in Alberta the number of  
specimen donations and new fossil discoveries went DOWN rather than UP 
after the law was enacted.  
    I am going to take flak from some for saying this, but I think 
those favoring Alberta like laws neeed to carefully examine their 
reasons for doing so.  Since I do not think a case can be made that it 
will increase the number of finds (again, the opposite is more likely), 
what is the reason?  I think part of it may be just a desire to have 
more control.  Or perhaps there is the tempting thought (even a 
subconscious one) that there may be more fossils when YOU personally go 
collecting--even though there would be far fewer fossils collected and 
discoveries made overall--in other words, individuals might gain, while 
paleontology as a whole would probably suffer.   
    Third, an especially troubling aspect of the Alberta law is that it 
appplies equally to common fossils as rare or imporant ones.  Yes, I 
think there should be some control or restrictions on the collection of 
important and rare fossils.  But when the same restrictions are applied 
to common fossils, everyone looses.  Again. many high schools, clubs, 
colleges, small museums, etc. depend on the study and collection of 
common fossils (especially invertebrates) for educational purposes.  
Those that cannot collect all they need themselves benefit from being 
able to buy common specimens from dealers.  Both activities ultimately 
promote interest and education in fossils, while having the fringe 
benefit in often resulting in new discoveries.  
    Not even all vertebrates need to be tightly controlled. Some 
vertebrates in some areas (such as White River turtle fragments) are so 
common that they are of little or no use to most museums (or already 
have or can easily get all they want), but are of great use and joy to 
many amateurs, teachers, etc.  Allowing their collection and even sale 
does not hurt paleontology, but rather helps spur interest it it.  
SVP's statement comdemning all fossil sales largely ignores these 
considerations.  But even if one could justify banning all commercial 
collecting, and all non-professional vertebrate collecting, there would 
still be no benefit and much harm in severely restricting the 
collection of common invertebrates, as the Alberta law evidently does.  
    Last, if something similar to the Alberta law were enacted in the 
U.S., especially for private land, it would fly directly in the face of 
the constitutional priciple of private property.  I for one get chills 
to think of the US government telling a citizen that they can come and 
consficate material on their land at will, without even compensating 
them for it (as evidently the Alberta law allows).  That is NOT the 
American way, nor in the best interest of science.  If private 
individuals could not collect or control material on their own land, it 
is not likely they would tell anyone about it.  In other words, 
probably NO ONE would have the fossils.   
    I am already very disappointed in the SD law recently passed, which 
ostensibly "protects" fossil (including common invertebrates) on public 
land there.  But does it really?  As I understand it, no longer can a 
high school or college class easily go to a local public road cut and 
collect some common bachiopods and clams.  No loner can a fossil club 
take a field trip to collect some trilobites for a display.  It this 
fossil protection?  Is this fostering education in fossils or science 
in general?  Does this hurt or help paleontology?
    Of course, some control of important fossil collection in merited.  
But sweeping legislation that severely restricts amateur collection of 
both common fossils, or which burdens professionals with excessive red 
tape, is not.  This is not just my opinion.  A study by the National 
Academy of Science concluded that:
    "After much discussion and soul-searching, the Committee adopted 
the following statement of principle...In general, the science of 
paleontology is best served by unimpeded access to fossils and 
fossil-bearing rocks in the field."
-
_Paleontologica Colecting_ 
Committee on Guidelnines for Paleontological Collecting
National Research Council 
National Academy Press, 1987 


The report also stated...

>From a scientific standpoint, the role of the land manager should be to 
facilitate exploration for, and collection of, paleontological 
materials." 

    I think the Alberta law and to a lesser extent some of the bills 
recently proposed in the US (like last year's Bauccus bill or the SD 
law) fly in the face of these principles.  The current ALAA bill (HR 
2943) is less restrictive, while still controlling collection of 
important fossils.  Yet it is being fought tooth and nail by many 
professionals.  I myself have some reservations about it (because of 
some ambiguities in the language and questions on the guidelines for 
commercial collecting).  But overall I think this bill (or none at all) 
would be better (or less oppressive) for paleontology than highly 
restrictive ones.  Again, if the overall good of paleontology is the 
main concern rather than one's own individual collecting prospects, I 
think there is little question that the NAS recommendations should be 
followed.  

Thank you.

Glen Kuban
paleo@ix.netcom.com


The major fallacy of those who believe they are "protecting" fossils 
when they favor strict legislation is that the net result of such 
legislation may be FEWER new FINDS due to the greatly reduced 
collecting of nonprofessionals.  It then becomes a question of whether 
you are concerned more for your own interest (a fewmore fossils for 
YOU) when you go into the field, or the interest of paleontology as a 
whole, which historically has benefited greatly from amateur collecting 
and even from controlled commercial collecting (witness the huge 
controbutions of the Sternberg familiy, for example).  Many of the 
perceived evil commercial collectors focus on common fossils to supply 
museum shops, schools, indivifdual teachers, etc. providing a 
legitimate service professionals have neither the time nor inclination 
to do.  Moreover, many amateurs and ethical commercial dealers make 
important speciems available for study or sale to professionals (they 
want credit for important finds also), and often go a good job of prep 
and doc.  Sometimes they do not, but then not all professionals do 
either, and the bottom line is that overall, paleontology greatly 
benefits from largely unrestricted access to fossils.  In my view 
commercial collecting of rare and important fossils should be 
controlled, but paleontology and education would be best served by 
ENCOURAGING amateur and even commercial collection of common 
invertebrates.  This is not just my opinion; I think anyone interested 
in a