Paleontological Resources Preservation Act: Proposals for the Management and Protection of Fossil Resources Located on Federal Lands
CRS Report for Congress
Paleontological Resources Preservation Act:
Proposal for the Management and Protection of
Fossil Resources Located on Federal Lands
September 14, 2004
Douglas Reid Weimer
American Law Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Paleontological Resources Preservation Act: Proposal
for the Management and Protection of Fossil Resources
Located on Federal Lands
Approximately 30% of the land in the United States is under the control of
federal land managers. Much of this public land is rich in paleontological [fossil]
resources. Concern has been expressed over the management, conservation, and
protection of these resources.
There is no comprehensive statute or management policy for the protection or
management of fossils located on federal lands. Federal authority for the
management of such resources may be derived from a number of general statutes
relating to the protection of public properties. The applicability of some of these
statutes, such as the Antiquities Act and the Archeological Resources Protection Act,
is uncertain or limited. General authority for fossil protection also may be derived
from general criminal theft statutes dealing with the theft of government property and
from certain site-specific statutes. There may also be certain regulatory authority
which is provided by the statutes governing each agency’s operations.
In May 2000, the Secretary of the Interior released a comprehensive report
concerning the management of fossils which are located on federal and Indian lands.
The report was prepared at the request of Congress and it is considered to be the
authoritative study of fossils on these lands. It has served as an impetus for federal
legislation. The report outlined seven principles for the effective management of
fossils which are located on federal land.
Legislative activity concerning the protection of fossils located on federal lands
has occurred in both the 107th and 108th Congresses. There have been two types of
legislation: one type deals with specific fossil resources at a particular location; the
other type provides comprehensive management and protection authority for fossilsth
located on federal lands. In the 108 Congress, the Senate passed S. 546, the
Paleontological Resources Preservation Act. The bill has been referred to two House
committees. H.R. 2416, a similar bill, has been introduced in the House. The two
bills provide a comprehensive approach to the management of fossils on federal
lands, providing uniform definitions, public programs, specific prohibitions, permit
procedures, and civil and criminal penalties. The bills would not modify the general
mining or reclamation laws, or apply to lands other than federal lands.
Background and Introduction.........................................1
Current Authority Related to the Protection and Management of
Paleontological Resources Which are Located on Federal Lands.........3
Report of the Secretary of the Interior: Fossils on Federal & Indian Lands.....6
Summary of Pending Legislation.....................................10
Paleontological Resources Preservation Act:
Proposal for the Management and
Protection of Fossil Resources Located on
Background and Introduction
At the present time, considerable interest – commercial, scholarly, and1
legislative – surrounds fossil resources. This interest is heightening concern among
federal land managers, scholars, legislators, and the general public for the protection
and management of fossil resources on federal lands. Vast tracts of land under
federal management2 are rich in fossil resources and some of these resources have
been, and are being, vandalized and/or stolen. With the growing interest in and
commercial value of paleontological resources, resources on federal lands are3
1 For the purposes of this report, the terms “fossil resources” and “paleontological
resources” are used interchangeably. “Paleontological” and “palentological” are alternative
spellings of the same term. The former spelling appears to be the preferred spelling, and is
used in the text of this report. It is also the spelling using in pending federal legislation.
Examples of paleontological resources include the remains of organisms which have been
preserved by natural processes in the earth’s crust, such as the fossilized remains or traces
of plant and animal matter. Examples of such resources are available on the National Park
Service Paleontology Program website at [http://www2.nature.nps.gov
/geology/ paleontology/ pub/index.htm] .
2 See CRS Report RL32393, Federal Land Management Agencies: Background on Land and
Resources Management, coordinated by Carol Hardy Vincent (May 21, 2004)(cited to
afterward as “CRS Report RL32393"). The federal government owns 672 million acres
(30%) of the nearly 2.3 billion acres of land in the United States. Four federal agencies
administer 628 million acres (94%) of this land: Bureau of Land Management has
jurisdiction over approximately 262 million acres (38.9%); Forest Service has jurisdiction
over approximately 192 million acres (28.7%); Fish and Wildlife Service manages 95
million acres (14.2%); and National Park Service administers about 79 million acres of
federal land (11.8%)(plus 5.4 million acres of non-federal land), for a total of 84.4 million
federal and nonfederal acres. (CRS Report RL32393 at 2).
3 See generally Fossils on Federal and Indian Lands, May 2000. Prepared at the request of
Congress by several consulting federal agencies: Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service,
National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S.
Geological Survey, as well as the Smithsonian Institution. The report is available online at
There is somewhat limited statutory and regulatory authority for the protection
and management of fossil resources on federal lands. Protection and management
authorities and policies vary significantly among federal land management agencies
and other federal entities.4 Also, federal land managers have many other
management responsibilities, in addition to the protection of fossil resources, and the
staff – law enforcement or paleontological – assigned to the management and
protection of fossil resources may be somewhat limited, or at times may be focused
on other land management issues.5
Caselaw on fossil protection is not well developed and is not necessarily
consistent and statutory authority is incomplete. There is no comprehensive
legislation regulating federal fossil resources. As there is no comprehensive
management and/or protection legislation, the role of law enforcement personnel in
the protection of fossils may not be clearly defined.
Legislation is currently pending in the 108th Congress which is intended to
improve the protection and management of paleontological resources on federal
lands. The proposed Paleontological Resources Preservation Act – S. 5466 and H.R.
24167 – addresses a number of significant protection and management issues. This
report examines these issues and provides some background on current laws,
regulations, and management practices.8 The report is limited to issues associated
with the federal management of fossils located on federal land. It does not examine
any state or local regulation of fossil resources located on state or municipal lands,
and it does not consider the regulations, ownership, or control of fossil located on
private property. Nor does the report analyze the management of fossils located on
Indian lands. The report will be updated as circumstances warrant.
4 Three of the “big four” land management agencies are located within the Department of
the Interior: Bureau of Land Management; Fish and Wildlife Service; and National Park
Service. The fourth, the Forest Service, is in the Department of Agriculture. Other federal
entities which have some oversight/management of fossil resources are the Bureau of
Reclamation; U.S. Geological Survey; and Department of Defense. The Smithsonian
Institution, while not a land management entity, curates a large fossil collection, much which
came from federal lands.
5 For example, a federal land manager may have to deal with such issues as the protection
and management of wildlife; the management and protection of mineral and other valuable
natural resources; the safety of visitors; the occurrence of natural disasters such as flood,
fire, and hurricane; and many other issues. Law enforcement staff in a national park may
have to deal with such varied issues as: 1) protection of archaeological, paleontological, and
other natural resources; 2) lost or injured visitors; 3) general law enforcement activities such
as policing drunk driving, drug trafficking, and other illegal acts.
6 108th Cong., 1st Sess. (2003). Passed the Senate on July 17, 2003.
7 108th Cong., 1st Sess. (2003).
8 This report does not consider fossil resources within the context of fossil energy issues.
The report does not examine in detail the cultural/historical/tourist interest in fossil
resources which visitors to federal lands may have.
Current Authority Related to the Protection and
Management of Paleontological Resources Which
are Located on Federal Lands
Again, there is currently no comprehensive federal statute concerning the
regulation, management, and preservation of fossil resources on federal lands.9
Fossils in several sites are regulated by site specific statutes10 and regulations,11 but
the sites represent only a fraction of the federal resources. Portions of some more
general laws may apply to fossil protection in limited circumstances, but coverage
here remains spotty at best. Some laws that may apply are cited and summarized
below. In addition, federal land management agency policies concerning fossil
resources vary considerably, which further complicates the management situation.
The Antiquities Act of 1906 (“Act”)12 authorizes the President to declare
“objects of historic or scientific interest” located on lands owned or controlled by the
United States, to be national monuments. Although the statute makes no specific
reference to fossils, national monuments have been created in order to protect fossil
resources.13 When fossil resources are in a national monument managed by the
National Park Service (as most national monuments are), the relevant regulations,
penalties, and prohibitions applicable to the National Park System may be utilized
to manage and protect the fossils. Also, presidential declarations aside, certain
statutes have created national monuments and have expressly protected fossil14
resources located within them.
The act provides criminal penalties for any person who removes or destroys any
“object of antiquity” without regard to which federal agency manages the lands.15 A
person convicted under this provision may be fined not more than $500 or
imprisoned for a period of not more than ninety days, or both.16 Section 3 of the act:
1) authorizes the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, and the Army to issue
permits for gathering objects of antiquity on lands under their jurisdictions, and 2)
allows for the gathering of such objects under a permit procedure and under specific
9 Under most circumstances, there is also no federal regulation of fossil resources which are
located on private lands or on lands owned by the states or local government units.
10 See notes 13 and 14.
11 For example, 36 C.F.R. § 261.2 defines “paleontological resource” within the context of
lands managed by the Forest Service; and 36 C.F.R. § 292.41 defines “paleontological
resources” within the context of the Hell’s Canyon National Recreation Area.
12 Act of June 8, 1906, ch. 3060, 34 Stat, 225 (1906), codified at 16 U.S.C. §§ 431 to 433.
13 Dinosaur National Monument, Proc. No. 1313, Oct. 4, 1915, 39 Stat. 1752; Proc. No.
14 Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Act of June 5, 1965, P.L. 89-33, 79 Stat. 123
15 16 U.S.C. § 433.
guidelines.17 Regulations have been promulgated which divide jurisdiction over the
lands among the three Secretaries.18
However, despite the references in the act to “objects of scientific interest,” and
the use of the act to proclaim national monuments to protect fossils, there is some
uncertainty how the act has been applied with respect to fossil resources themselves.
No enforcement actions involving application of the act to the removal or destruction
of fossil resources as an “object of antiquity” have been located. A court decision,
discussed below, has further lessened the effectiveness of the act to protect fossil
resources. Still, the act remains the only specific legislation with criminal sanctions
that may cover paleontological materials on federal lands.19
The Archeological and Historic Preservation Act of 197420 provides a means
for the survey, removal, protection, and preservation of certain resources or data
impacted by federally funded construction projects, including dam construction and
the alterations of terrain.21 The legislation provides for the “preservation of historical22
and archeological data (including relics and specimens).” These provisions are
applicable when a federal construction project or federally licensed project, activity,
or program may cause the loss or destruction of “significant scientific, prehistorical,
historical, or archaeological data.”23 It is unclear whether these provisions apply to
fossil resources per se, or whether the fossil resources have to be connected with
other historical or archaeological data or resources. As the provisions are rather
broadly written, it could be argued that fossil resources might fit into either the
“significant scientific” or the “prehistorical” categories. The statute does not provide
punitive measures for noncompliance. There appears to be no clear precedent in
applying the provisions of this legislation to fossil resources.
The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA)24 protects
against the unauthorized removal of archaeological objects located on federal or
Indian lands. However, paleontological resources are specifically excluded from the
definition of “archaeological resources,” for the purposes of the ARPA’s coverage,
unless the fossil resources are specifically associated with an archaeological site.25
17 16 U.S.C. § 432.
18 43 C.F.R. §§ 3.1 to 3.17.
19 Sherry Hutt, Elwood W. Jones & Martin E. McAllister, Archeological Resources
Protection 22 (1992)(cited to afterward as “Hutt”).
20 P.L. 93-291, 88 Stat. 174 (1974), codified at 16 U.S.C. §§ 469 to 469c-2.
21 This legislation originated in the Reservoir Salvage Act, P.L. 86-523, 74 Stat. 220 (1960),
which was subsequently expanded and amended as the Archaeological and Historic
Preservation Act of 1974.
22 16 U.S.C. § 469.
23 Id. at § 469a-1(a).
24 P.L. 96-95, 93 Stat. 721 (1979), codified at 16 U.S.C. §§ 470AA to 470mm.
25 16 U.S.C. § 470bb.
The Federal Cave Resources Protection Act (FCRPA)26 may provide some
protection for paleontological resources within the context of a protected “cave
resource.” The FCRPA states that “the term ‘cave resource’ includes any material
or substance occurring naturally in caves on Federal lands, such as animal life, plant27
life, paleontological deposits, sediments, minerals, speleogens, and speleothems.”
FCRPA does not define the term “paleontological deposits” nor is the term clarified
in regulations. At the same time, FCRPA provides a comprehensive statutory
framework for the management and protection of covered resources through 1)28
management actions, 2) collection and removal of cave resources through a permit
process,29 3) a listing of prohibited acts and criminal penalties,30 4) civil penalties,3132
and 5) authorization to establish a research program.
The general criminal theft provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 641, which prohibit the
conversion, theft, sale, or disposal without authorization of anything of value
belonging to the United States, may be applied to the unauthorized removal of fossils
from federal lands. The National Park Service’s Natural Resources Reference
Manual 77 states:
These statutes [theft of government property law] were first
applied to stolen federal fossil resources in the mid-1990's.
With a few highly-publicized prosecutions, these statutes could
become effective at deterring future theft of fossils on NPS and
other federal lands.33
One who steals government property or receives stolen property knowing it to have
been stolen can be fined under Title 18, imprisoned up to ten years, or both. If the
value of the property does not exceed $1,000, the person may be fined under Title 18,
imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.
It also may be possible for the United States to protect its fossil resources by
instituting a trespass action for the unauthorized use of its land and resources.
Certain federal statutes address specific types of trespass and provide for associated
penalties.34 For example, 18 U.S.C. § 1863 provides for a fine of not more than $500
or imprisonment for not more than six months or both for whoever “without lawful
26 P.L. 100-691, 102 Stat. 4546 (1988), codified at 16 U.S.C. §§ 4301 to 4310.
27 16 U.S.C. § 432.
28 16 U.S.C. § 4303.
29 Id. § 4305.
30 Id. § 4306.
31 Id. § 4307.
32 Id. § 4310.
33 NPS Natural Resources Reference Manual, provided by Julia Brunner, NPS Geologic
Resources Division, Denver, CO. See
34 18 U.S.C. §§ 1851 to 1863.
authority or permission, goes upon any national-forest land which is closed to the
public pursuant to lawful regulation of the Secretary of Agriculture. . .” Other federal
statutes deal with trespass actions within specific national parks.35
However, there is not one general federal statute dealing with trespass to federal
property. The most significant source of federal authority to oppose trespass to its
property is that which the federal government enjoys as a property owner.36 At
common law, the unauthorized entry of the land of another is a trespass, and the
United States can stop trespasses on its lands.37 The government could seek to
recover the value of the public property unlawfully appropriated. However, this
course of action does not seem to have been used in the context of the unauthorized
taking or use of fossil resources from federal lands. On some federal lands, such as
those managed by the Bureau of Land Management, certain state law also may
provide an alternative enforcement remedy.38
Report of the Secretary of the Interior: Fossils on
Federal & Indian Lands
The Secretary of the Interior issued a report concerning the current collection,
storage, and preservation of fossils in May 2000 pursuant to a request contained in
Senate Report 105-227 for the FY1999 Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations
Act.39 The agencies directed by the Senate to assist the Secretary in preparing the
report were the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and Bureau
of Indian Affairs, as well as the Smithsonian Institution. In addition, the U.S.
Geological Survey contributed to the report. This report is considered the
authoritative study and analysis of the issue.40
The federal entities recommended that federal fossil management would be
improved by a comprehensive approach for the protection and management of
paleontological resources. They further recommended that this approach be guided
by seven principles:
35 For example, 16 U.S.C. § 91 (Mt. Rainier National Park); 16 U.S.C. § 122 (Crater Lake
36 United States v. West, 232 F.2d 694 (9th Cir. 1956), cert. denied 352 U.S. 834 (1956).
37 Shannon v. United States, 160 F.870 (9th Cir. 1908).
38 A search of state laws where the BLM has land management responsibilities did not
disclose any specifically relevant state law concerning fossil resources. However, it is
possible that under certain circumstances, a state trespass or other fossil protection law
might be applicable. It is well established, that as a property owner, the United States may
sue in the states courts under state law to protect its property. Cotton v. United States, 52
U.S. (11 How.) 232 (1850).
39 See note 3.
40 Telephone call between Douglas Weimer, CRS, and Greg McDonald, paleontological
program coordinator, NPS (March 22, 2004). See also S. Rep. No. 108-93, at 6 (2003).
Principle 1: Fossils on Federal Lands are a Part of America’s Heritage.
Actions concerning fossils should reaffirm the current use of federal fossils for
scientific, education, and where appropriate, recreational values.41
Principe 2: Most Vertebrate Fossils are Rare. Actions regarding fossil
management should reaffirm the restriction on collecting vertebrate fossils to
qualified personnel. Fossils should remain in federal ownership in perpetuity.42
Principe 3: Some Invertebrate and Plant Fossils are Rare. Actions regarding
fossil management should reaffirm mission-specific approaches to the management
of plant and invertebrate fossils.43
Principle 4: Penalties for Fossil Theft Should be Strengthened. Legislative and
administrative actions should penalize the theft of fossils from lands under federal
jurisdiction in such a way as to maximize the effectiveness of prosecutions and to
deter future thefts. In determining penalties, the value of the fossils themselves, as
well as any damage resulting from their illegal collection, are to be taken into
account. Strategies should emphasize education of federal managers, prosecutors,
law enforcement personnel, and the judiciary regarding the value of fossils and the
means and techniques for the appropriate protection of fossil resources.44
Principle 5: Effective Stewardship Requires Accurate Information. Actions
should recognize the need for accumulating and analyzing information about the
location of fossils, especially the important role of inventory in the effective
management of fossil resources. Increased emphasis on fossil inventory should take
into consideration regional approaches across agency lines and utilize modern
technology. In protecting fossil inventory, agencies could examine specific issues,
such as the impact of erosion on the loss of resources.45
Principle 6: Federal Fossil Collections Should be Preserved and Available for
Research and Public Education. Actions should affirm the importance of the
curation of scientifically valuable fossils as the property of the federal government,
but also allow for partnership with non-federal institutions. Approaches should
emphasize the use of modern technology to improve fossil curation and access.
There should be sharing of information among government agencies and private
Principle 7: Federal Fossil Management Should Emphasize Opportunities for
Public Involvement. Actions should include an emphasis on public education and
involvement in the stewardship of fossil resources. Approaches should emphasize
41 Interior Report at 13-15 (page references are to the web version of the report).
42 Id. at pp.15-17.
43 Id. at pp.17-18.
44 Id. at pp. 18-19.
45 Id. at pp. 19-21.
46 Id. at pp. 21-24.
the use of technology to increase the public education and awareness of the
importance and the benefit of fossil resources.47
The report separately considered the management of fossils which are located
on Indian lands.48
The report set out four management goals to safeguard the intellectual and
educational value of fossils and to promote their public benefits:49
!The first management objective involves field inventory, monitoring,
and protecting of fossils. Because of different levels of acreage,
staff, and fossil resources, as well as different legislative mandates,
federal land management agencies take somewhat different
approaches to performing inventories and monitoring the fossil
resources on land that they oversee. Consequently, only a few
national parks have completed comprehensive fossil resource
!The second management object involves collection requirements.
The priorities in collecting scientifically significant fossils are based
on research and education. Where fossils are located is significant.
Agencies must also consider the impact of fossil collection on the
entire environment, taking into account such other factors as the
presence of endangered species and related cultural resources.
!The third management objective concerns the storage and
preservation of fossils. Fossils are placed in museums in order to
keep them safe, maintain their physical condition, keep the fossils
and the related information together, and make the fossils and their
context readily available for study and for present and future
educational and interpretative programs.
!The fourth objective of fossil management concerns the management
of information. At the present time, there is no systematic approach
for sharing fossil related information among agencies. The report
recommended that there should be a greater opportunity to exchange
information involving fossil resources.
47 Id. at 24-25.
48 The Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) authority to manage fossil resources located on
Indian lands is not mandated by statute and is limited. The federal government does not
have the same rights of ownership or control over Indian lands that it exercises over non-
Indian lands. The BIA manages fossils as a trust resource and is limited to approving leases
of Indian lands or agreements between Indian landowners and third parties for the extraction
49 Interior Report at pp. 8-13 (page references are to the web version of report).
Only a few reported cases deal with fossil resources located on federal lands and
related issues, and they do not provide a consistent or a dispositive analysis of the
applicability of existing federal preservation laws to fossil resources. The few
reported cases tend to be subject- specific and may not have a broad applicability to
fossil protection issues. Many prosecutions for fossil theft are not published in the
legal case reporting system, so that it is difficult to develop a broad overview of
enforcement and legal analysis.
Perhaps the leading case illustrating the state of current law as an enforcement50
tool is United States v. Diaz, which dealt with the application of the Antiquities Act
(“Act”) in a criminal context. The Ninth Circuit found that the language of the act51
was unconstitutionally broad. The court noted that the act did not define such terms
as “ruin,” “monument,” or “object of antiquity.” The impact of this decision
effectively ended the use of the act as a means of prosecution for the theft and/or
destruction of archaeological objects located on federal lands throughout the Ninth
Circuit, which includes the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho,
Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.52 While the case did not involve fossil
resources per se, the court’s findings probably ended the possible application of the
act to fossil resource protection and management in the above states. The court
determined that Congress had inadequately defined the term “object of antiquity,”
and that the term could have “different meanings to different people.”53 It also found
that the term “antiquity” not only referred to the age of an object, but also to a
ceremonial function of the object. Therefore, the court determined that the use of
undefined terms of uncommon usage in the act was fatally vague, and impeded the
statute’s ability to provide adequate notice and resulted in a violation of the Due54
Process Clause of the Constitution.
50 499 F.2d 113 (9th Cir. 1974).
51 The statute provides that “Any person who shall appropriate, excavate, injure, or destroy
any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of antiquity on lands owned or
controlled by the Government of the United States...” would be subject to criminal
prosecution and punishment.
52 Jurists, law enforcement personnel, and legal commentators concur that the Diaz holding
effectively voided certain criminal penalty and enforcement portions of the Antiquities Act
in these states. The Diaz holding was also a contributing factor to the enactment of ARPA
in 1979, since the traditional protection provided by the Antiquities Act was no longer
available in the Ninth Circuit. See Hutt at 23-27.
53 499 F.2d at 114.
Summary of Pending Legislation
The 2000 Interior Report has served as an impetus for legislation establishing55
comprehensive management and protection requirements. The bill that has received
the most attention in the 108th Congress is S. 546, the Paleontological Resources
Preservation Act. S. 546 passed the Senate and has been referred to the House
Resources and Agriculture Committee.56 Following is a summary of the most
significant provisions of the legislation.
!Section 2 provides relevant definitions of terms, including “casual
collecting,” “Secretary,” “Federal lands,” “Indian lands,” “State,”
and “paleontological resource.” The “casual collecting” definition
provides a noncommercial exception to allow the random collection
of fossil materials from certain federal lands.
!Section 3 directs the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture (“the
Secretaries”) to manage and protect paleontological resources on
federal land, and to develop plans for inventorying and monitoring
such resources. Section 4 directs the Secretaries to establish a
program to increase public awareness of paleontological resources.
!Section 5 prohibits an individual from collecting paleontological
resources from federal land without a permit. However, casual
collecting of common invertebrate and plant paleontological
resources for scientific, educational, and recreational uses, without
a permit, on certain federal lands is permitted under certain
circumstances. Resources collected from federal lands remain the
property of the United States.
!Section 6 requires that such resources and related information are to
be placed in an approved repository.
!Section 7 makes it a crime to: 1) excavate, remove, or alter a
paleontological resource located on federal lands, except in
compliance with this act; 2) exchange or receive such a resource, if
the person knew or should have known such resource to have been
55 In the 107th Congress, two types of legislation were introduced: 1) site specific legislation
to create a particular fossil preserve – H.R. 2385, 107th Cong., 1st Sess. (2002) enacted as
P.L. 107-346, 116 Stat. 2896 (2002); and 2) comprehensive legislation to manage, protect,thst
and preserve paleontological resources –H.R. 2974, 107 Cong., 1 Sess. (2002); S. 2727,thnd
56 S. 546, 108th Cong., 1st Sess. (2003). Introduced by Sen. Akaka on March 6, 2003 and
referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The Subcommittee on
National Parks held a hearing on June 10, 2003. The bill was reported out of committee on
July 11, 2003 (S.Rept. 108-93). It passed the Senate with an amendment by unanimous
consent on July 17, 2003. The bill was received in the House on July 28, 2003 and referred
to the Committee on Resources and the Committee on Agriculture. No further action has
illegally removed from federal lands; or 3) sell or purchase a
paleontological resource, if the person knew or should have known
such a resource to have been illegally removed from federal lands.
!Section 8 authorizes the assessment of civil penalties.
H.R. 2416,57 is substantially similar to S. 546. The primary differences are that
!Contains a statement of findings and purposes;
!Sets out a different penalty schedule; and
!Contains specific provisions on rock collecting in National Forests.
The public lands of the United States possess significant paleontological [fossil]
resources. The federal government manages some 30% of the land in the United
States, and fossil management is only one of many federal land management
There is no comprehensive statute or management policy for the protection and
management of fossils which are located on federal lands. Federal authority for the
management of such resources may be derived from a number of statutes relating to
the protection of public properties. The application of some of the statutes is
uncertain, and the usefulness of the Antiquities Act of 1906 (“Act”) is limited, in
light of the Diaz decision, which found the criminal penalty provisions of the act to
be unconstitutionally vague. Generally, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act
of 1979 and the Native America Graves Protection and Repatriation Act are not
applicable to fossil resources. General authority for fossil protection may be derived
from general criminal theft statutes dealing with the theft of government property and
from certain specific statutes, such as the Federal Cave Protection Act. There may
also be some regulatory authority provided by statutes governing each agency’s
In May 2000, the Secretary of the Interior released a comprehensive report
concerning the management of fossils located on federal and Indian lands. The report
was prepared at the request of Congress, and it is considered to be the authoritative
57 Introduced by Rep. McGovern on June 11, 2003, and referred to the Committee on
Resources. On June 19, 2003, it was referred to the Subcommittee on National Parks,
Recreation and Public Lands, the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, and the
Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans. On June 19, 2003, the
Subcommittees on Fisheries and Forest held a joint hearing. Also, on June 11, 2003, the bill
was referred to the Agriculture Committee, and it was referred to the Subcommittee on
Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry on June 24, 2003. No further
action has been taken.
source on federal fossils. It has served as an impetus for federal legislation. The
report outlined seven principles for the effective management of federal fossils.
There has been legislative activity in both the 107th and 108th Congresses
concerning the protection of fossil resources located on federal lands. There have
been two types of legislation: one deals with specific fossil resources at a particular
location and the other provides comprehensive management and protection authority
for fossils located on federal lands. In the 108th Congress, the Senate passed S. 546,
the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act. The bill has been referred to two
House committees. H.R. 2415, a similar bill, has been introduced in the House. The
two bills provide a comprehensive approach to the management of fossils located on
by providing uniform definitions, public programs, specific prohibitions, permit
procedures, prohibitions, and civil and criminal penalties. The bills would not
modify the general mining or reclamation laws, or apply to lands other than federal