WASHINGTON, D.C. ― The U.S. Department of the Interior announced a proposed rule to further facilitate implementation of the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act of 2009.
The proposed rule provides standards for a coordinated approach to the management of paleontological resources on lands managed by four Interior Department Bureaus: Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and National Park Service (NPS). It will also clarify how these bureaus manage paleontological resources to ensure they are available for current and future generations to enjoy as part of America’s national heritage.
Like the Act, the proposed rule would not apply to state, private, or Indian lands; it only applies to paleontological resources in areas managed by the four bureaus. These bureaus have very different statutory missions and land areas, and therefore, usually issue separate regulations. In this case, however, the bureaus worked closely together to develop a regulation that will provide a consistent approach for managing paleontological resources.
“One of the strengths of the proposed rule is that it calls not only for collaboration between agencies, but also for partnership with the scientific community and the public,” said Elizabeth Klein, U.S. Department of the Interior, Associate Deputy Secretary. “It will help clarify the management of paleontological resources to ensure they can be enjoyed for generations to come.”
The proposed regulation defines paleontological resources as “any fossilized remains, traces, or imprints of organisms preserved in or on the Earth’s crust.” There are some exceptions to this definition, such as fossils that are also archaeological resources or cultural items, which will continue to be managed under other laws and regulations.
Paleontological resources are valuable because they provide unique information about the history of life on Earth. Thus, the proposed rule calls for management based on scientific principles and expertise, and provides for inventory and monitoring, and public education programs. The proposed rule maintains, but clarifies, the bureaus’ existing collection permit requirements and processes.
Paleontological resources that are collected under a permit must be preserved and remain available to be studied after being collected. The proposed rule requires the resources be curated at an approved repository, and provides a consistent approach for how collected fossil specimens will be stored, accessed and managed. In another effort to protect these valuable and vulnerable resources, the proposed rule prohibits bureaus from releasing specific locality information to prevent the risk of theft or vandalism to the resource.
To reduce the likelihood of theft or vandalism, the proposed rule defines prohibited acts, and establishes civil and criminal penalties for violations. Reward provisions are included to enhance public engagement in resource protection, and forfeiture provisions will enable the bureaus to reclaim stolen resources.
The Act directs the BLM and Reclamation to allow the casual collecting of common invertebrate and plant fossils without a permit. Under the proposed rule, the public can continue to collect a reasonable amount of common invertebrate and plant fossils, such as trilobites and leaf impressions, for noncommercial purposes without a permit on most public land managed by the BLM.
In areas administered by Reclamation, the collection of any fossil material is currently prohibited by 43 CFR 423, Public Conduct on Bureau of Reclamation Facilities, Lands, and Waterbodies. However, the new rule will now allow Reclamation to establish special use areas for the purpose of casual collecting. Casual collection will continue to be prohibited on lands managed by the NPS and the FWS.