U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
Paleontological resources are managed so as to safeguard their scientific and educational values as well as to promote public benefit and enjoyment. Inexpert collecting, or the failure to maintain precise information on the original location, rock type, or other conditions of a paleontological resource occurrence, can damage fossils, or cause them to lose their context, and therefore, much of their scientific value for research purposes. Proper storage and care of paleontological resources -- curation -- after they have been collected is a key responsibility of the Federal agencies. This is why scientifically significant paleontological resources from Federal lands are placed in museums where they are safe, where their physical condition and information about them can be maintained, and where they are available for scientific study and public display.
On March 30, 2009, the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act (PRPA) became law when President Barack Obama signed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act (OPLMA) of 2009, Public Law 111-011. P.L. 111-011, Title VI, Subtitle D on Paleontological Resources Preservation (known by its popular name, the PRPA) (123 Stat. 1172; 16 U.S.C. 470aaa) requires the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to manage and protect paleontological resources on Federal land using scientific principles and expertise. The PRPA includes specific provisions addressing management of these resources by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the National Park Service (NPS), the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) of the Department of Agriculture.
The PRPA affirms the authority for many of the policies the Federal land managing agencies already have in place for the management of paleontological resources such as issuing permits for collecting paleontological resources, curation of paleontological resources, and confidentiality of locality data. The statute establishes new criminal and civil penalties for fossil theft and vandalism on Federal lands.
The PRPA only applies to Federal lands and does not affect private lands. It provides authority for the protection of paleontological resources on Federal lands including criminal and civil penalties for fossil theft and vandalism.
Consistent with existing policy, the PRPA also includes provisions allowing for casual or hobby collecting of common invertebrate and plant fossils without a permit on Federal lands managed by the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service, under certain conditions. Casual collecting is not allowed within the National Parks or other lands managed by the National Park Service, or lands administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation.
As directed by the Act, the Federal agencies will begin developing regulations, establishing public awareness and education programs, and inventorying and monitoring federal lands.
16 U.S.C. 470aaa-9 of the PRPA requires that,
The Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) must issue such regulations as appropriate to implement the statute and provide opportunities for public notice and comment. Provisions of the statute that need specific regulatory language include defining terms used in the definition of casual collecting; explaining the permit process for paleontological resources; clarifying the qualifications for applicants for paleontological resources use permits; and describing the requirements for curation of federal paleontological resources. Additional regulatory language is being proposed to clarify other terms used in the PRPA as well as to clarify processes that implement the statute.
The Department of the Interior agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Fish and Wildlife Service, together with the U.S. Forest Service, have begun the rulemaking process. You can find the announcement and track the progress of the regulations here.
The major laws protecting paleontological resources (fossils) on public lands are the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) , the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) , and various sections of BLM’s regulations found in Title 43 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).
In 1998, Congress recognized that,
In 2005, the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) acknowledged that paleontological resources on public lands are owned by the United States, and that they are protected under FLPMA (BOARD OF REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA, 165 IBLA 231, April 13, 2005.)
To learn more about other laws and policies, click HERE.