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WASHINGTON – The Department of the Interior today announced a proposed regulation to implement the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act of 2009. The proposed rule provides standards for a coordinated approach to the management of paleontological resources on public lands. The rule clarifies how bureaus will manage paleontological resources to ensure they are available for current and future generations to enjoy as part of America’s national heritage.
Full text of the proposed rule may be found at: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/12/07/2016-29244/paleontological-resources-preservation
The public is invited to comment on the proposed rule for the next 60 days, or by February 7, 2017. Comments may be submitted using the Regulation Identifier Number (RIN) 1093-AA16, using the following methods:
The proposed regulation does not apply on state, private, or Indian lands; it only applies to paleontological resources in areas managed by four bureaus that are within DOI (the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service). These four 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 one consolidated and consistent regulation that will for the most part apply to all four bureaus, replacing and clarifying the bureaus’ existing rules and practices for managing paleontological resources.
The coordinated approach provided by the proposed regulation will enable all stakeholders to easily locate and learn about the bureaus’ management standards, helping to ensure that these irreplaceable resources remain available for current and future generations to enjoy as part of America’s paleontological heritage.
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, however, 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 information about the history of life on Earth. The proposed rule therefore provides for management based on scientific principles and expertise, inventory and monitoring, and public education programs. The proposed rule maintains, but simplifies and standardizes, 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 regulation therefore requires they be curated at a museum, and provides a consistent approach for how collected fossil specimens will be stored, accessed, and managed. In a further effort to protect these valuable and vulnerable resources, the proposed regulation requires the bureaus to carefully analyze resource and management implications before releasing specific locality information.
To reduce the likelihood of theft and vandalism, the proposed regulation clearly defines prohibited acts, and establishes reasonable civil and criminal penalties. Reward provisions are included to enhance public engagement in resource protection, and forfeiture provisions in the proposed regulation will enable the bureaus to reclaim stolen resources.
The Act directs BLM and Reclamation to allow the “casual collecting” of “common invertebrate and plant fossils” without a permit, consistent with the laws that already apply to these bureaus. Accordingly, the proposed regulation contains a special “casual collecting” subpart that applies only on lands administered by BLM and Reclamation. Fossils collected under this subpart can only be used for personal reasons, not for commercialization. This subpart applies only to “common” invertebrate or plant paleontological resources, which will be defined depending on site-specific factors, and collection can cause only “negligible disturbance,” defined as little or no change on the surface of the land.
“Casual collection” will be authorized differently on BLM and Reclamation lands. 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 regulation will now allow Reclamation to establish special use areas for the purpose of casual collecting. In contrast, many BLM areas are already open to casual collecting. The proposed regulation provides these collectors with greater certainty than previous regulations by defining the amount of plant and invertebrate fossils a collector may take from BLM-managed lands: 25 pounds per day, not to exceed 100 pounds of paleontological resources per year.
While the proposed rule authorizes “casual collecting” on certain BLM and Reclamation lands, this part of the rule does not apply on NPS- and FWS-managed lands. Under existing laws and regulations, as well as the proposed regulation, collection of paleontological resources on NPS- and FWS-managed lands is accomplished under a permit.
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FWS recently competed a review of museum collections containing animal remains. These collections can be very useful in better understanding changes that have occurred in different habitats over time. Check out these links for more information. If you have questions please contact Eugene Marino at firstname.lastname@example.org