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Collecting Fossils on BLM-administered lands

Elrathia kingi

The Omnibus Public Land Management Act, Paleontological Resource Preservation subtitle (16 U.S.C. 470aaa) includes provisions allowing for casual or hobby collecting of common invertebrate and plant fossils without a permit on Federal lands managed by the BLM under certain conditions. Casual collecting is not allowed within lands managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation.

The BLM does not authorize the commercial use of fossils collected on public lands. Petrified wood may be purchased as a mineral material. To learn more, read about petrified wood below. 

While coal, oil, and natural gas are fossils, they are not paleontological resources are so are the extraction of these resources is regulated under specific mining and mineral extraction laws.  See the BLM energy program for more information on mining and minerals.

Some areas on BLM-administered lands may be closed to hobby collecting for various reasons including mineral leasing, scientific study, resource preservation, and public safety.

Contact the nearest BLM office to inquire about areas that may be closed to fossil collection or other recreational activities. It is your responsibility to be familiar with regulations before starting. 

Common Invertebrate and Plant Fossils

Common invertebrate fossils include the fossilized remains of animals without a backbone, including snails, oysters, ammonites, corals, shellfish, and others.  This also includes different types of preservation of animals in rock, including tracks, traces, burrows, impressions, and original hard-parts.

Ammonite from Muddy Creek  Silicified Gastropods from the House Range  Fern Fossil  Borrows (background) and Brachiopods (foreground) from Confusion Range

Plant fossils include leaf and stem impressions, root traces, and original material.  Petrified wood is a mineral material subject to specific regulations and is discussed below.

Some invertebrate or plant fossils are rare or unusual and are therefore not considered to be common.  These may include impressions of rare precambrian soft-bodied fauna or other taxa that are unstudied or new to science.  Rare or unusual invertebrate or plant fossils, as determined by the current state of the sciences of invertebrate paleontology or paleobotany, must be deposited in a museum and may only be collected with a paleontological resource use permit.

What is a reasonable amount?

You may collect common invertebrate and plant fossils for NONCOMMERCIAL purposes only. A reasonable amount is what you may keep for a personal hobby collection or display in your home.

Petrified Wood

Petrified Wood

It is permissible to collect reasonable amounts of wood. (43CFR3622.1)

What is a reasonable amount?

BLM regulations allow the collection of 25 pounds per day of petrified wood plus one piece, provided that the total removed by one person does not exceed 250 pounds in one calendar year.  Pooling of quotas to obtain pieces larger than 250 pounds is not allowed.  (43CFR3622.4)

Power equipment, explosives, or heavy digging or hauling equipment may NOT be used to excavate or remove petrified wood.  (43CFR3622.4)

Do I need a permit?

If you intend to remove more than 250 pounds of petrified wood in one calendar year, intend to remove a petrified log that exceeds 250 pounds, or intend to sell or barter petrified wood for profit, then you will need a mineral permit.  (43CFR3602.10)

If you intend to collect specimens of petrified wood (i.e. logs) that exceed 250 pounds for display in a public museum or similar institution, then you may obtain special permission on a case-by-case basis.  (43CFR3622.2 and 43CFR3604)

If you intend to collect and study scientifically significant specimens of petrified wood for research and permanent inclusion in a museum collection, then you will need a paleontological resource use permit.

Where Can I Collect Fossils in Utah?

Contact the local BLM Field Office for information on locations where you collect common invertebrate and plant fossils.

REMEMBER: Collecting or disturbing fossils in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is NOT ALLOWED.

Fossil Theft

 Fossil Thief

The BLM Office of Law Enforcement (OLES) is heavily involved with the protection of fossils on lands administered by the BLM. Paleontological resources constitute a fragile and nonrenewable scientific record of the history of life on earth. Once damaged, destroyed, or improperly collected, their scientific and educational value may be greatly reduced or lost forever... Because of the remote areas that paleontological resources are often located in, fossils have been a target for thieves and looters. The plundering and destruction of cultural and paleontological treasures has become a highly lucrative business involving a network of looters, expert dealers in stolen property, and opportunistic buyers in the United States and throughout the world.  

Fossil thieves aren't just stealing fossils; they are stealing scientific and educational information as well as valuable recreational opportunities from you!

For interesting articles on fossil theft and how fossil thieves are caught, check out the following links:

If you discover fossil theft or vandalism, please contact the local BLM Office in the area.