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During the period of June 10-12, 1996 the North American
Paleontological Conference was held in Washington, D.C. The
Conference was reportedly attended by over 600 paleontologists,
geologists, some members of industry, museums, biologists,
oceanographic professors and a host of others from: United States,
Canada, Angola, England, Australia, Germany, Sweden, Cuba, New
Zealand, Venezuela, Mexico, Denmark, Egypt, Spain, Hungary, Albania,
Japan and China. There may have been other nations represented but
not registered with credentials or abstracts. As we understand there
were about 433 abstracts presented, however some were those who
The opening address was presented by Mr. John Pojeta, Jr.,
U.S. Geological Survey, MRC 137, Rm. E-308, Museum of Natural History,
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 20560. USA. As follows:
Almost all of us who collect fossils agree on two points: (1) In
order to collect we need the permission of the person in charge of the
locality, and (2) Over the past 20 years, collecting fossils has
become increasingly complicated. Beyond these truths, almost every
collector has her/ his perspectives on the proper do's and don't's of
the process. These points of view range from (1) Only professional
paleontologists should be allowed to collect fossils to, (2) Everyone
should be allowed to collect fossils.
In the 16 years that I have been involved in discussions about "Land
Access Issues in Paleontology," we have repeatedly discussed the
(1) What is a professional paleontologist? (2) Is Federal legislation
needed? (3) Is a permit system needed? (4) To whom do fossils
belong? (5) What is commerce fossils? (6) Are vertebrate fossils
special? (7) How do we eliminate public confusion of paleontology
with archeology? (8) How does one determine the scientific value of a
fossil? (9) Who should be allowed to collect? (10) Should people be
fined and/or jailed for collecting fossils? (11) What are the
problems of land managers?
In my opinion, we need to give all those interested in fossils -
professionals, amateurs, suppliers, and miners and quarrypersons a
process by which they can pursue their interests.
These and other issues in collecting fossils have been discussed by
relatively small committees, panels and the like. They have not been
discussed by a broad spectrum of paleontologists. This symposium
should provide such a forum for paleontology and all attendees should
leave with new perspectives and knowledge to discuss the issues.
Fossil collecting is a subset of the larger issues of natural history
collecting and scientific studies on the public lands in general. For
some time, entomologists and malacologists have expressed considerable
concern about restrictions on collecting insects and mollusks.
In May 1995, the National Research Council (NRC) held a planning
meeting on these larger issues. Those who attended the meeting study
ecology, oceanography, volcanology, paleontology, geophysics,
political science, rural sociology, forestry, and land policy. Among
other things, we discussed drilling into a volcano in Katmai national
Park, seismic reflection studies at Lake Mead, and the Mount Graham
telescope. All these non paleontological studies involved the
difficulties with land access or the endangered species act. To date,
the NRC has not been able to find funding to convene a panel to
recommend guidelines to land managers.
As an interest group, scientists must become far more active in
addressing the issue of land access for all kinds of studies. Do
scientists have a vehicle or method for providing information to land
managers, elected officials, and other decision makers? Can the
disparate and often fractious scientific organizations speak with a
unified voice so that we do not confuse decision makers? We must
organize ourselves to protect the right to collect natural history
objects, including fossils, for our studies.
RAUP, David M. Dept of Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago,
Chicago, IL 60637. USA
In the debate over government regulation of fossil collecting on
public lands, well-meaning and informed people often arrive at
opposing positions. Indeed, both sides in the debate have legitimate
and powerful arguments, which may explain the ease with which strong
views are adopted after only a brief introduction to the problem.
Important fossils are destroyed or lost to science by sloppy
collecting, destructive handling, or simply by sale into remote
private collections. On the other hand, many of our most important
Lagerstatten are well known only from the efforts of private and
commercial collectors (e.g., Solnhofen, Mazon Creek).
Ten years ago, the National Academy's Committee On Guidelines for
Paleontological Collecting grappled with the problem of regulation
through a series of full and often intense meetings over an 18-month
period. The Committee's 13 members represented a spectrum of
paleontological experience: government, academia, museums, and
commercial collecting, as well as the principal taxonomic specialties
(VP, IP, micropaleontology, and paleobotany). There was even a
lawyer, a politician, and a strip-miner (but not, unfortunately, a
hobby collector). Because of the sensitivity of fossil vertebrates,
VP occupied four of the 13 "seats." The Committee members started out
with widely divergent positions, yet a strong consensus was achieved,
with results which startled many of us. The final votes on the ten
recommendations were unanimous.
The dominant theme of the Committees report (National Academy Press,
1987) is that the disadvantages of regulation usually outweigh the
benefits: "...THE SCIENCE OF PALEONTOLOGY IS BEST SERVED BY UNIMPEDED
ACCESS TO FOSSILS AND FOSSIL-BEARING ROCKS IN THE FIELD." (Page 2).
Furthermore, the report explicitly denied the commonly-asserted
analogy between paleontology and archeology, arguing that the
protection problem for fossils is far different from that for human
remains. Despite the generally free-access stance adopted by the
Committee, there were important caveats. The report urged that
permits be required for all commercial collecting, for collecting in
national parks, and for fossil quarries. Further, several of the
recommendations suggested guidelines for the protection of
scientifically important fossils after collecting. The report
implied, but did not state explicitly, that hobby collecting should be
left unregulated. However, due to the difficulty of the defining
boundary between hobby and commercial collecting, the role of the
amateur fossil collector was left in limbo. In future discussions,
this aspect deserves closer attention.
Note: As more information is received, I will be posting more of the
abstracts from this symposium.