Implementing the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act of 2009 (PRPA)
This Permanent Instruction Memorandum (PIM) revises the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) paleontology permitting system to establish a single paleontology permit and application process, establishes a BLM-wide standard for releasing paleontological locality data to the public and clarifies what is common for purposes of casual collection.
Regulations at 43 CFR 49 (promulgated under PRPA, 16 U.S.C. 470aaa-9) require the Bureau to clarify guidance on the following topics:
- Paleontology Permitting. The Paleontological Resources Preservation Act of 2009 (PRPA; 16 U.S.C. 470aaa-3) and regulations at 43 CFR 49.100 authorize the Bureau to issue paleontology collection permits. Permitting program guidance is clarified to state that the BLM will issue one type of paleontology permit and simplify the permit application process to improve public access to paleontological resources. Permit applicants are not required to possess an advanced degree in paleontology to receive a permit. Rather, the applicant must show they possesses the experience and qualifications to carry out the work that would be authorized by the permit.
- Confidentiality of Paleontological Locality Data. A BLM-wide standard is established for the sharing or release of paleontological locality data. This standard strikes a balance between the need to share information to promote open science while also protecting paleontological resources from theft or vandalism. The location of paleontological resources as recorded in Bureau data sets may be provided to the public with a precision no greater than 0.1 decimal degrees latitude/longitude, except for when conditions provided at 43 CFR 49.25 apply.
- Casual Collection. For the purposes of casual collection on BLM-administered lands, non-vertebrate paleontological resources may be assumed to be common unless or until they are discovered not to be common.
- Potential Fossil Yield Classification. The Potential Fossil Yield (PFYC) System for Paleontological Resources on Public Lands will be used to assess paleontological potential when considering land management actions (see attachment 1).
The departmental regulation under the PRPA (43 CFR 49) provides general guidance for managing paleontological resources on lands managed by U.S. Department of the Interior bureaus. There is, however, a need to provide Bureau specific guidance and clarification for the management of paleontological resources on BLM-administered lands.
Paleontological Permitting. The BLM has issued paleontology permits since 1984 when Secretarial Order 3104 transferred the authority to manage permits from the National Park Service to the BLM. In 1998, the BLM 8270 manual and handbook series was introduced, identifying two types of permits: survey and limited surface collection and excavation. In 2006, the BLM began issuing a third type of permit, called a consulting permit. More recently, new developments in research and education prompted a need for more categories that authorize collection of paleontological resources, including non-vertebrate fossils. As an alternative to creating multiple categories of permits, the BLM recognizes that each project is, in some way, unique and that applicants should be qualified and equipped to do the work that they propose instead of fitting into prearranged categories.
Confidentiality. Paleontological location data is exempt from disclosure under section 552 of title 5, U.S.C., and any other law unless the Bureau determines that disclosure would: (1) further the purposes of the PRPA; (2) not create risk of harm to or theft or destruction of the resource or the site containing the resource; and (3) be in accordance with other applicable laws (16 U.S.C. 470aaa-8 and 43 CFR 49.25).
Paleontological datasets exist so that mangers, researchers, and the public may understand how and where plants and animals changed through time; however, this need for open science must be balanced against the Bureau’s responsibility to protect paleontological resources from theft or damage when their localities are made publicly available. PRPA preserves paleontological locality data from disclosure, but also allows Bureau discretion to share or release location data in furtherance of the Act. Establishing 0.1 decimal degrees latitude/longitude as a baseline standard for the sharing of paleontological locality information follows the standard provided by the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) for highly sensitive geospatial data and is consistent with professional best practices used by multiple museums and organizations. Zero point one (0.1) decimal degrees is, depending on latitude, an area approximately 6 miles in diameter. For the purpose of this policy, 0.1 decimal degrees is the same as 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).
Casual Collection. During the public comment period, many respondents expressed concern that they would be in violation of the PRPA if they otherwise legally collected a non-vertebrate paleontological resource that was later discovered to be uncommon. This policy clarifies that non-vertebrate fossils found on BLM-administered lands may be treated as common unless or until they are recognized to be uncommon.
Potential Fossil Yield Classification. The Potential Fossil Yield Classification (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.
This policy supplements 43 CFR 49 and updates guidance in BLM Manual 8270 (Paleontological Resource Management; release 8-68) and Handbook H-8270-1 (General Procedural Guidance for Paleontological Resource Management; release 8-69).
If you have questions, please contact Scott Foss, Division Chief HQ420, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Division of Education, Cultural and Paleontological Resources (HQ420) coordinated the preparation of this IM with the U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of the Solicitor, and counterpart paleontology program leads with the Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.