Paleontological Resources

Teratophoneus at the Capital

NEW PALEONTOLOGY REGULATION AT 43 CFR PART 49 

A final Department of the Interior regulation has been published at 43 CFR Part 49 – Paleontological Resources Preservation in order to implement the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act of 2009 (PRPA).  

Together PRPA and the regulations at Part 49 require the bureau to do the following: 

  1. Manage paleontological resources using scientific principles and expertise 
  2. Maintain a program of inventory and monitoring of paleontological resources 
  3. Establish an education program to increase public awareness about paleontological resources 

The regulations also: 

  • Implement a program of permitting for the collection of paleontological resources 
  • Require bureaus to preserve paleontological objects for the public in approved museum collections 
  • Provide for casual collection of common non-vertebrate fossils by the public without a permit (BLM and Reclamation lands only) 

PRPA applies to lands managed by the BLM, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the USDA Forest Service. All of these bureaus, except for the USDA Forest Service, are part of the Department of the Interior and are covered by this regulation. The USDA Forest Service published similar regulations in 2015 at 36 CFR § 291

View partner paleontology websites at the following links: 

BLM IMPLEMENTATION OF PALEONTOLOGY PROGRAM 

The BLM paleontology program works to preserve and protect paleontological resources for the benefit of current and future generations; assess for the presence and significance of paleontological resources prior to making land use decisions; facilitate insightful research into the geology and paleobiomes that preserve extinct organisms; and produce programs that increase the public’s awareness and appreciation of paleontological resources. 

BLM policy to implement the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act of 2009 (PRPA) and paleontology regulations at 43 CFR Part 49 provides BLM-specific guidance on four topics: 

  1. Casual Collection 
  2. Confidentiality 
  3. Permitting 
  4. Potential Fossil Yield Classification 

BLM-Specific Paleontology Guidance: 

Casual Collection

BLM shall allow casual collecting without a permit where such collection is consistent with the laws governing the management of that land (PPRA Section 6304) 

43 CFR § 49.810 defines casual collection: 

Casual collecting means the collecting without a permit of a reasonable amount of common invertebrate or plant paleontological resources for non-commercial personal use, either by surface collection or the use of non-powered hand tools, resulting in only negligible disturbance to the Earth’s surface or paleontological or other resources. 

  • Reasonable amount is 25 lbs per person per day 
  • Non-vertebrate means common invertebrate and plant paleontological resources 
  • Noncommercial personal use means not for purchase, sale, or financial gain 
  • Non-powered hand tools mean no motors or mechanized power source 
  • Negligible disturbance means little change to the surface of the land and minimal effect to other resources

BLM-Specific Guidance: 

Non-vertebrate fossils are considered common until they are recognized to not be common. 

During the public comment period many people expressed concern that they would be in violation of the law if they inadvertently collected a non-vertebrate fossil that was later discovered to be uncommon. The BLM wants collectors share their discoveries without fear.  

Confidentiality 

Information concerning the nature and specific location of a paleontological resource is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (PRPA Section 6309) 

43 CFR § 49.25 allows disclosure of the location when doing so would: 

  1. Further the purposes of the PRPA; 
  2. Not create risk of harm or theft or destruction of the resource; and 
  3. Be in accordance with other applicable laws. 

BLM-Specific Guidance: 

The location of paleontological resources may be provided to the public with a precision that is no greater than 0.1 decimal degrees latitude/longitude, except for when conditions provided at 43 CFR § 49.25 apply.  

0.1 decimal degree follows the standard provided by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) for highly sensitive geospatial scientific data and is consistent with professional best practices used by multiple museums and scientific organizations. 0.1 decimal degree is, depending on latitude, an area approximately 6 miles in diameter. For the purpose of this guidance, this is 10,000 x 10,000 meters in Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) or 6 x 6 miles (1 township) in the Public Land Survey System (PLSS). 

Permitting 

A paleontological resource may not be collected from Federal land without a permit issued under this subtitle (PRPA Section 6304) 

43 CFR § 49.100 requires: 

Any person who collects paleontological resources must have a permit issued by the appropriate bureau unless the activity qualifies as casual collection. 

BLM-Specific Guidance: 

Permittee must possess advanced training and education in a field of study that is relevant to the proposed work, but attainment of an advanced degree is not required. An applicant must show that they possess the experience and qualifications to carry out the work that would be authorized by the permit. Thus a permittee may demonstrate that they are qualified to do one type of study, but not be qualified to do another. 

Additionally, as an alternative to creating multiple categories of permits, the BLM recognizes that each project is unique and that applicants should be qualified and equipped to do the work that they propose instead of fitting into prearranged permit categories. 

Potential Fossil Yield Classification 

The Secretary shall manage and protect paleontological resources on Federal land using scientific principles and expertise (PRPA Section 6302) 

43 CFR § 49.30 states: 

The bureaus will develop plans and procedures for the inventory and monitoring of paleontological resources on and from Federal land in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. 

BLM-Specific Guidance: 

The Potential Fossil Yield Classification (PFYC) system is renewed for use by BLM to assess the potential for a land management action to affect paleontological resources. 

The PFYC system provides an estimate of the potential that important paleontological resources will be found in a mapped geological unit and may be used by non-specialists to assess possible impacts to paleontological resources prior to authorizing Federal actions that include surface disturbance, land use planning, or land tenure adjustment. 

The PFYC is an important tool for BLM planning activities because it provides a rational process for non-paleontologists to make a primary assessment of whether paleontological resources will be present and determine if a qualified paleontologist needs to be consulted. 

BLM Potential Fossil Yield Classification

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