The long-enduring debate over collecting fossils on federal lands is continuing.
The bills sponsor, Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) testified it “provides stiff penalties for crimes involving the theft and vandalism of Fossils of National Significance (FONS) in order to deter the illegal collection of these resources on public lands. And, it is important to note that the bill seeks only to penalize those who knowingly violate the law and seek to illegally profit from these public resources. It does not place any new restrictions on amateur collectors who by and large respect the value of these fossils. It is limited to public lands, and will in no way affect private land-owners. Furthermore, this bill mandates that all such fossils taken from federal land be curated at museums or suitable depositories. Lastly, it standardizes the permitting practices for excavation on public lands to ensure that fossils are not needlessly damaged.”
The bill was opposed Peter L. Larson, President of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, Inc, a commercial fossil company based in South Dakota. Larson argued that the bill would limit collecting to academics only and that amateurs and commercial companies unearth fossils that would otherwise be lost to weathering or never found by the scientific community. Larson also argued against allowing scientists and federal land managers to keep secret the locations of significant finds.
This debate, which has played out over many years, comes down to a few basic battles: