January 15, 2009
Open Letter From The president of AAPS Tracie Bennitt.
Dear Congressmen and women:
As the new year begins, I find it critical at this time to express our concerns regarding the "Paleontological Resources Preservation Act" that is currently under consideration by the House. Unfortunately, this passed through the Senate as a part of the incredibly huge Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. I find it disconcerting that this bill is continuing to make its way through the legislative system with all of its problems still attached.
The AAPS (Association of Applied Paleontological Sciences) board of directors has reviewed House Bill HR 554, "Paleontological Resources Preservation Act" and S.22 "Paleontological Resources Preservation." There are many good things about this bill in both forms, but also many issues that need to be addressed that affect not only commercial collectors, like Triebold Paleontology, but many academic and scientific institutions as well. We appreciate you taking the time to review this information and how it will affect all of us in the paleontology industry, commercial, academic and amateur.
The following points are reasons why AAPS cannot support this Bill (using S.22 data) and urge you to vote NO on the upcoming Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 with Subtitle D included:
Sec. 6302 (a) states that "the Secretary shall manage and protect Paleontological resources on Federal lands using scientific principles and expertise." This is exactly what many professional companies, like TPI, have to offer. We applaud the Bill's recognition that the Secretary of the Interior has the responsibility to manage and protect paleontological resources on public lands. After so many years of changing policy, this Bill would finally clarify regulation of fossil collecting, and increase public awareness. We are in complete support of the casual collecting exemption. Amateurs are the foot soldiers of paleontology and their activities are to be encouraged. We applaud the recognition that all qualified individuals will be eligible to obtain a permit. In past bills, commercial and amateur collectors were not allowed to obtain permits.
Sec. 6304 (c) 3 states that "specific locality data will not be released by the permittee or repository without the written permission of the Secretary." It is against scientific principles to keep scientific data secret. This should be available to all scientists and the general public who own public lands. Except in only the most special circumstance locality data should not be withheld. Science and the public want to know this information.
Sec. 6306 (b) states that "a person may not make or submit any false record, account, or label for, or any false identification of, any paleontological resource excavated or removed from Federal land." Ironically, Paleontology is a field that is not set in stone. What you find and label in the field may not be what you find as preparation is undertaken in the lab. Penalties for misidentification of fossils will place every museum in jeopardy. There is not one museum that is free from labeling errors on specimens on exhibit or in collections.
Sec 6303 (c) states that penalties "such person shall be fined in accordance with title 18, United States Code, or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both" is quite extreme punishment for mislabeling a fossil. We could find a large number of our scientists and museum curators behind bars if this was actually enforced. And heavens! With (d) if you mislabel more than two times, your penalty could be doubled! I guess this would be one way for starving scientists to get a free mealů
Sec. 6307 (a) 2 (A) states "the scientific or fair market value, whichever is greater, of Paleontological resource involved." There is no logical scientific or empirical way to assign a dollar amount to scientific value. Only the term fair market value should be used. The market adequately determines the value of a Paleontological specimen.
Sec. 6308 (b) states that "all vehicles and equipment of any person that were used in connection with the violation, shall be subject to civil forfeiture, or upon conviction, to criminal forfeiture." Imprisonment and vehicle forfeiture should be reserved for only the most heinous violations. Our government does not need to put scientists in jail and confiscate University vans. We can visualize now a group of students unknowingly crossing over an invisible line and ending up handcuffed and prosecuted. An honest mistake is just that and should be treated accordingly.
There are no provisions for the sale of fossils from commercial quarries or surface collecting. These are an important and integral part of the world of paleontology, and a mechanism to provide for the sale of fossils from public lands, like other resources, should have been devised as part of this Bill. There are also no provisions for commercial exploration, collecting, processing and sale of fossils on public lands. Wouldn't this be a better alternative than fossils disappearing from the world forever? All other natural resources are allowed this application. Why have vertebrate fossils been excluded? Gravel companies can grind up fossils for fill, but collectors are not allowed to collect and sell these same fossils. Something just doesn't seem right about this.
AAPS members have volunteered numerous times to assist with the wording of this Bill and to date have been largely ignored. As the only organization of professional fossil collectors in the US, we find it disturbing that the issues we might have helped deal with in the creation of this legislation, and those which unfortunately require that we withhold our support, could have been successfully addressed had we been consulted. We invite you to visit our facility here in Woodland Park to see first hand how a commercial Paleontological company does business and pays its own way. Please extend this invitation to other members of the committee. I feel that they probably don't really know what we do, how we do it, and the responsibility we have to science and our field of choice, paleontology.
Professional collectors, intimately familiar with the latest techniques for safe retrieval and documentation can and should be a vital ally in the fight to preserve our fossil resources. Myriad opportunities exist for contract and collaborative exploration, excavation, preparation, molding, casting, mounting and conservation. Due to the expense involved with fossil collecting, many specimens have been lost to science due to the fact that the museums and universities collecting on public land do not have the time, money or staff to collect everything they see. These specimens end up as dust as they erode away. Representatives from different museums and organizations have told us of this exact thing happening to them, as year after year they return to a collecting area and watch fossils erode to nothing.
It is also important to note that our arguments against this legislation are supported by the National Academy of Sciences 1986 report titled "Paleontological Collecting".
Unfortunately, years later and following numerous requests to participate in the process, we still have not had an opportunity to provide additional insight into this Bill. Perhaps with a little more input and a few amendments, this Bill could really benefit the science of paleontology. Please allow us an opportunity to participate in the creation of viable legislation that would preserve the resource and bring all of paleontology together. DO NOT allow this legislation to pass in its present form.
President, Association of Applied Paleontological Sciences
719 686-1820 X112 cell 719 641-9541