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Song of the Ancients
The following was sent to me, along with a few kind words for my efforts to
awaken the paleontological village to the dangers of legislating away the
rights of amatuers to collect Federal lands in the United States. Sometimes
it's hard to write the words that convey the complete range of emotions and
thoughts I have on this subject, and this forwarding contains a wider
spectrum than my limited talents encompass.
I will also be forwarding this message to my congressional representatives
and others. The simple fact is this issue concerns all of us interested in
paleontology, and without addressing this now there may be no later.
To Whom it May Concern:
We constantly strive to improve relations between all fossil
enthusiasts...amateur, commercial, academic and museum. In the best
interest of the science, these discrete "specialities" of paleontology should
learn to to work together to preserve and protect both the fossils and the
important associated scientific information. All paleontologists are
"commercial" if they do paleontology in order to earn money to live and to do
more paleontology. It is unfortunate that there has been so little common
ground between "specialties" on which to build a platform of mutual respect.
As a result, Congress has again been asked to review legislation (Fossil
Preservation Act of 1996 - HR 2943) dealing with the collection of fossils on
I believe that its a big mistake to look to government for solutions to
complex scientific issues. Furthermore, the proposed bill lacks a
certification and licensing program for persons permitted to collect on
government land. Fossils of creatures great and small that once inhabited
our planet have a way of influencing our thinking and stimulating our
imaginations. They have educational value at ALL levels. We can't protect
what we don't understand. We all need to learn more about fossils and how to
collect them in order to protect them.
To collect (carefully and sensibly) is to protect, a premise which is unique
to the science of paleontology and contrary to most other natural sciences.
So much of the world's important scientific information relating to fossil
resources is lost as a result of weathering. Yet recent regulatory trend in
the U.S. has been to prohibit the collection of fossils on government lands.
At the same time, our government thinks nothing of low cost leases to big
companies.....acres of forest land to lumber companies for lumber
production....and acres of fossils to oil companies to crush up for energy
The concept of "National Treasure" doesn't make sense when the object is
really global in origin. There are sufficient resources to provide museums
worldwide with fine collections of fossils from many continents. It is truly
a science which could provide a framework of common interests, bringing
people from all over the world together on common ground.
In the best interests of the fossils and the science, we should openly accept
the fact that fossils have both scientific and commercial value. Fossil
resources are sufficiently abundant to support an industry which could
provide jobs for the countless kids who want to become Paleontologists.
Presently, there are precious few jobs for graduates and still fewer
positions for Professors.
I have heard a number of reports of Federal land managers harassing
collectors in the field if they are found working on or near public lands.
Anyone who has ever been out collecting on any land, public or private,
knows it is very difficult to determine what land belongs to whom. Surveyed
land is divided into squares and deeded descriptions refer to these squares.
Mother nature has her own way of dividing things... Ranchers have another.
Sometimes fences are erected on property boundaries.... often they are not.
State and federal laws regarding property boundaries and fences are poorly
defined. One can, very easily, wander onto public land accidentally. The
penalties presently written into law are sometimes severe and often without
due process in the field. It's only a matter of time before some BLM or Park
Service officer with a gun confronts an aggressive fossil digger and we'll
end up in an idiotic situation of someone getting shot over a bone or shell
of a dead animal.
Fossils which are stored in personal collections are, at least, preserved and
appreciated for a lifetime. Often, they eventually end up in museums or
research institutions. A lifetime is but an infinitesimal speck on the line
of geologic time. Isn't it time we realized that there isn't sufficient time
or space for public institutions to collect and house ALL the fossil
resources of the world? Significant contributions have been made by amateur
and commercial collectors. The science of Paleontology would best be served
by a collective effort from all..... Put our differences aside. It's time we
custodians of these fossils started looking for creative and positive
solutions to these complex issues. Government regulations will only make our
task more difficult. We need a better plan