Monday, December 22, 2008

We Always Assume Someone is Out to Screw Us

Yes, we always assume someone is out to screw us. Problem is, we’re often right about it. We just don’t know when we’re right and who’s responsible. We’re particularly inclined to put our faith in that person who warns us that someone else is out to get us. Rather, we should heed that little voice in our heads that says, “Beware of people who claim to have your best interests at heart.” (In my case, the little voice says, “Beware of steering committees.” It’s a long story. Maybe later.)

The situation is this. The U.S. Congress has several bills before it that seek to create a uniform policy governing the collecting of fossils on federal land. The title of the bills is the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act (H.R. 554 and S. 320 – also S. 3213 includes the text of S. 320 in it). Current policies on this do differ from federal agency to agency and, for a decade or so, the Congress has been working to bring this legislation to completion.

So, what’s the issue for folks like me? Well, there’s a buzz in amateur paleontological and fossil collecting circles that this legislation will screw us amateur collectors, prohibiting our collecting and imposing draconian penalties if we inadvertently violate its provisions.

Hey, I didn’t know that, under the current patchwork of policies, I could even collect fossils on federal lands!!

Don’t be ridiculous you gullible amateur collector. You can’t collect on federal lands, with one exception. On land under the administration of the Bureau of Land Management, you can collect invertebrate fossils, petrified wood, and other plant fossils. If, by chance, you’re in this for the money from selling fossils (a commercial fossil collector), then you’re really black listed and prohibited from collecting on any federal land.

To the point, the legislation under consideration specifically allows the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture (depends upon whose land is involved) to permit “casual collecting” of invertebrate and plant fossils. That’s amateurs.

So, who’s stirring up the concern of amateur fossil collectors about this legislation? As best I can figure it out, the commercial fossil collecting interests are largely behind it, trying to scare us in order to scuttle the legislation. Their fear is that this legislation would not only make it crystal clear that commercial fossil collecting on federal land is out, but establish penalties for violating that prohibition that are stiff enough to actually deter those collectors from despoiling federal land in their search for commercially valuable fossils. Unfortunately, my colleagues among amateur collectors are just as inclined to believe they’re being screwed as is anyone else, particularly if the purported villain is the federal government.

For once, it appears that the Congress is trying to protect federal land and keep some folks from using it for personal financial gain. It’s about time. I, for one, am in favor of this legislation. Doesn’t affect me and I think we need a uniform policy. So, who’s out to screw us? Believe me, somebody is. Well, first, the “us” in this case isn’t just amateur fossil collectors, it’s the U.S. public who are the "screwees". And the “screwers”? Well, it’s not the feds. I’ve drawn my own conclusion.


  1. Question: what IS petroleum?

  2. Not really what the post was about. But, here's my take on "what IS petroleum?" -- Something of which there isn't enough on federal land to make a difference in terms of our foreign dependence (if you're coming from the "drill, baby, drill" camp), and something we need to wean ourselves from.


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