Paleontology in the BLM
The BLM manages, preserves, and protects paleontological resources on public land using scientific principles and expertise.
Paleontological resources are managed so as to safeguard their scientific and educational values as well as to promote public benefit and enjoyment. Paleontologists collect more than just the fossil itself; they also collect precise information on the original location, rock type, and other conditions of where the fossil was discovered. If a fossil is damaged or loses its context, much of its scientific value is lost.
Proper storage and care of paleontological resources after they have been collected is an important responsibility of the BLM. This is why scientifically significant paleontological resources from BLM-managed lands are housed in museums where their physical condition can be maintained and they can be available for scientific study and public display.
The major laws protecting paleontological resources on public lands are the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Federal Land and Policy Management Act of 1976, the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act of 2009, and various sections of BLM’s regulations found in Title 43 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
In 1998, Congress recognized that,
“Under current public laws, including the Federal Land Management Policy Act of 1976, Federal land management agencies are given the authority and the mandate to protect public resources, including those of scientific value. These resources include fossilized paleontological specimens, which provide valuable clues to the Earth's history.” (Sen. Rpt. 105-227, p. 60)
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.)
BLM policy, in the form of manuals, handbooks, and instruction memoranda, as well as other mandates like presidential memoranda and secretarial orders, guide the BLM in their application of these laws.