The BLM administers the public lands of this nation for the use and benefit of all Americans. The fossils found on public lands are part of our national heritage, so there are some special rules for their protection. The following information is provided for the public to be used as a general guide for fossil collecting on public lands managed by the St. George Field Office
What are Fossils?
Paleontological resources (fossils, tracks, fossilized wood) are the remains or traces of plants and animals that lived during periods of Earth’s history. Fossils are unique, non-renewable resources that provide clues to the history of life on earth, and many are considered to have important scientific value.
Hobbyists May Collect Some Fossils for Personal Use
Most BLM managed public lands are open to exploring and hobby collecting, but some areas are managed with special restrictions to protect their natural and cultural resources. Collecting and access may be limited in these areas. Contact the SGFO to find out about areas where fossil collecting is limited.
Fossil collecting activities that damage the public lands and resources, or that make them dangerous for others, are not permitted. Uprooting large areas of grass, sagebrush, and other plants, or digging large holes, may create hazardous conditions and can contribute to erosion. An archaeological site might even be damaged or destroyed and this is prohibited by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979. Many fossil specimens are found right on the surface, and digging is often unnecessary.
Invertebrate and Plant Fossils
Invertebrates are animals without backbones, such as clams, snails, ammonites, trilobites and corals. Common invertebrate and plant fossils may be collected in reasonable quantities for personal use, but they cannot be traded, bartered or sold to anyone else.
Commercial collecting of invertebrate and plant fossils from public lands is not allowed. Over-collecting of invertebrates that once were common has made some of them difficult to find. Please remember to leave something for your children and grandchildren to enjoy!
Vertebrates include sharks and other fish, dinosaurs, turtles, mammals – in fact, any animal with a skeleton of cartilage or bone. Because vertebrae fossils are rare and scientifically important, they may be collected only after obtaining a permit from the BLM’s State Office.
Who May Obtain a Permit
Permits for collecting vertebrae fossils on public lands are issued to scientists with education and experience in paleontology. These scientists must arrange to put all fossils they collect in a museum or other public institution where they remain the property of all Americans.
Laws and Policies
Federal laws and regulations under which these policies are interpreted include the American Antiquities Act of 1906, the Materials Act of 1947, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, and various laws that deal with the theft, damage, or interstate transport of stolen goods (e.g.,18 USCA 641, 18 USCA 2314, 18 USCA 1361).
You may collect as much as 25 pounds of petrified wood, plus one piece per day, for your personal use. You may collect as much as 250 pounds of petrified wood in any calendar year. But, you may not “pool” the quotas of several individuals in order to collect pieces larger than 250 pounds. Petrified wood collected for personal use may not be traded, bartered, or sold to anyone else. If you want to collect larger amounts, you may apply to the BLM Geologist for a mineral material sale permit.
Commercial sales are not authorized in BLM’s St. George Field Office (public lands in Washington County, Utah) to avoid depletion of the resource.
What You Can Do for Your Public Lands
There are only a limited number of fossils, so take only the ones you will use in your collection. If you find vertebrae fossils, leave them in place because their location and surroundings are as important. Many fossils are extremely delicate and could be destroyed if you try to move them. Take a photo if you can and report scientific finds to the BLM. Natural processes like rain or snow are less damaging to the fossil than if you try to dig them up.
If you see someone destroying fossils on public lands, or if you are approached by someone asking about vertebrae fossil localities or collecting, you can help by contacting you local BLM office by calling 1-800-VANDALS. But please do not try to handle these situations yourself!
Contact landowners for permission before you collect on private land. Your local BLM office sells maps that show public, private and other lands, and roads that provide access to public lands. Always respect private property rights.