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Don't Sell Off Montana's Fossils

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Oxytropidoceras

Opinions: Don't sell off Montana's fossils
Great Falls Tribune, February 28, 2013

http://www.greatfallstribune.com/article/20130228/OPINION/302280004

Makoshika State Park, Montana, http://stateparks.mt.gov/makoshika/ ,

http://www.makoshika.org/ , and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Makoshika_State_Park

House Bill 392, Allowing excavation/sale of fossils

at Makoshika State Park to benefit the park,

Montana Legislature, Detailed Bill Information

http://legiscan.com/MT/bill/HB392/2013

http://data.opi.mt.gov/bills/2013/billhtml/HB0392.htm or

http://legiscan.com/MT/text/HB392

Alan Doane - Montana Legislature: Sessions

http://leg.mt.gov/css/Sessions/63rd/leg_info.asp?HouseID=0&SessionID=107&LAWSID=15246

Yours,

Paul H.

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DeloiVarden

Institute a permit system. Must have permit to hunt, permit fees pay for program management, permittee must report and picture finds inorder to keep/renew permit. Find found while permitted can be kept, sold by permittee as long as they wait a certain window giving the state time to further picture or cast if so desired. Win/win. State gets scientific data, individual has possession rights, state gets funding, blah, blah, blah. Doesn't seem like anyone stands to win in the current situation and banning the possession or sale just means the fossils will be left to erosion. Erosion is working quicker than the resources of any state or country...

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Nandomas

It will be a pleasure to buy some of those bones if and when it will be legal :) in order to help Montana economy ;)

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Shamalama

Yeah, If it were structured like that I would agree that it could be a viable system if applied to a limited area with no excessive excavations. Why let the fossils waste away to nothing if they can be preserved? It should be limited to fossils exposed at or near the surface, no exploratory digging.

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Auspex

Any system that engages the amateur can be a boon to the science.

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Nandomas

Seriously, Makoshika SP is a beautiful place. If there will be chances for amateurs to help during the diggings, this will bring a lot of money to the local economy.

I know a lot of people that, with a small fee, could help there (I am speaking of small fee, not the hundreds and hundreds of dollars that they ask in Bozeman, that's really shameful :(:blush: !!!)

Selling those fossils? mmmmmmmmmmmmm...

There will be better options for the State Park.

Personally I like when the dinosaurs are left in place. Makoshika is not very far from the Black Hills in SD, and likely, with the right advices, the people that manage the place could bring a lot of visitors there, mainly during the summer months (I am thinking to the thousands of bikers that roam the NW corner of SD at that time of the year)

Regards

Nando

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jpc

I agree with the writer of the first post... the opinion piece. There are lots of other state lands with dinosaur on them. these bits couild be opened up for persoanl collecting for a fee, if that's what the state is looking for. From within a state park that would be just wrong. These funds could actually be put to use to support a staff at Makoshika that could collect there for the state.

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clfossils

Institute a permit system. Must have permit to hunt, permit fees pay for program management, permittee must report and picture finds inorder to keep/renew permit. Find found while permitted can be kept, sold by permittee as long as they wait a certain window giving the state time to further picture or cast if so desired. Win/win. State gets scientific data, individual has possession rights, state gets funding, blah, blah, blah. Doesn't seem like anyone stands to win in the current situation and banning the possession or sale just means the fossils will be left to erosion. Erosion is working quicker than the resources of any state or country...

I would agree with DeloiVarden. Institute a permit or maybe even institute a licensing structure where by people can take a course in proper collecting, cataloging and storing techniques. Obviously the hurdle is ensuring that people who get a licence actually puts what they learn to practice. If such information, as location and other important facts were always maintained with the collected sample, then scientific data would be present.

I thoroughly enjoy collecting but I'm also as interested in maintaining and cataloging what has been found.

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Alan Doane

I am Alan Doane, Representative HD#38, the sponsor of this legislation. Makoshika park needs funding badly. I would love to hear any of your ideas regarding this. Under current law only accredited universities, colleges, and other qualified entities can get the antiquity permit required to excavate on state land. This will not change, but it should give other people an opportunity to participate under the permit holders supervision so the science is recorded and the fossils are preserved. We need to find a way to fund our park,Please contact me with any ideas you may have: alandoane@midrivers.com I'd love to hear from you on this!

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Shellseeker

It will be very interesting to see the responses to Alan's request for ideas. Reality sucks. The entire country is in a belt tightening mode, and few want to face reality. The vast majority of Paleontological related organizations depends heavily on hefty donations and state funding. It would be interesting to think about a reasonable budget for staff, research, maintenance, and renovations. Alan is clearly implying that the State Park is enduring major shortfalls -- so where do you get a million or two when you need it every year to keep the operation going?

If someone has really great ideas, we can do something about nature centers, conservation areas, wildlife centers, state and federal parks here is Florida, in Montana, and around the country that are just scrapping by.

Unfortunately, conservation cost money and it completes with numerous other human related needs.

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Auspex

There is an opportunity, wrought by the current economic conditions, to craft a program beneficial to education, science, and local funding. It should be possible to tap this natural resource in a non-destructive way. The devil is in the details.

Do any members know of a functioning analog, to use as a model?

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Boesse

Representative Doane,

If Montana State Parks are in such a bad state, I suggest you talk to Governor Jerry Brown of California for some better ideas on how to better manage aspects of the state government. Brown has decreased the opening hours for some parks, and outright closed many - and for the first time in decades California (as a result) has a budget surplus. Selling off fossils on state lands, while sounding superficially great to you and many on here who would like to own some, won't really generate that much revenue in my opinion. More importantly, it's antithetical to the purpose of state parks - preserving nature for the people (not the highest bidder). Secondly, it brings up a potentially terrible precedent regarding mineral deposits on state park lands; what's next, selling stalagmites from Lewis and Clark Caverns? Fragments of Pompey's Pillar? Pieces of obsidian from Yellowstone?

Better management is the solution, not "bake sales".

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Nandomas

Closing state parks in order to save money? Someone have to tell to the Gov. Brown that's really the worst idea I never heard in my life.

This idea shows no respect for people and for tax payers.

Come on, we live now and we pay our taxes now, so we HAVE the right to enjoy our parks now.

Edited by Nandomas

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Boesse

Brown's state government instituted across-the-board spending cuts, and that included limiting the operating hours of many state parks, and closing many that the state government just couldn't afford to keep open. As shellseeker indicated, "reality sucks". However, as a result, this is the first time the state has had a balanced budget in decades - and once the surplus grows, opening restrictions can be eased off. It may sound like a poor idea to you, but it worked for California and as a result it's one of the only states in the union with a balanced budget.

It would be great to think that Montana SP could avert financial doom by selling off a few fossils - but in reality these are resources that will amount to the equivalent of a large 'bake sale', and there are far more serious ways to deal with budget problems. If you're concerned with Montanans being able to enjoy their natural resources, I think they'd be more concerned with natural resources of their state parks being sold off to the highest bidder. And if there's anything that disagrees with the average Montanan, it's their "stuff" being sold out of state by politicians in Helena.

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Opisthotriton

Perhaps Makoshika State Park could look into leading guided fossil tours into the badlands, following the very successful model of Dinosaur Provincial Park.

http://www.albertaparks.ca/dinosaur.aspx

At Dinosaur Provincial Park, trained park guides lead groups of tourists into the badlands to visit known fossil sites, as well as to prospect for new fossils. Although no fossils are allowed to leave the park (it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site), adults and kids are able to experience the thrill of finding small fossils, and having the guide identify them and teach them about the animal.

Dinosaur Provincial Park is in a MUCH more rural and isolated area than Glendive, and yet they are able to attract huge numbers of tourists from all over the world every summer. This guided tour model would create a job (or jobs) for a trained park guide, and with the right advertising could attract large numbers of tourists who would spend money at the hotels and restaurants in Glendive. Makoshika is already part of the Montana Dinosaur Trail; by offering guided tours into the badlands, they could become one of the premiere stops along the trail. The number of tourists that would come to Makoshika for a tour would be much greater than the number of commercial or amateur paleontologists who would apply for a permit to sell fossils, and so the hotels and restaurants would make more money from increasing tourism than from increasing commercialism.

Side note in case anyone from Makoshika is reading this - the Makoshika State Park website was last updated in 2009, but the exhibits have been recently updated, and the visitor's center looks really great now. Putting some photos of the renovated displays on the website would show potential tourists that the park really one of the best stops along the DInosaur Trail, and is worth their visit, even if it might be out of their way.

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T WRX

Aside from being seriously ethically questionable, one of the biggest
issues with this plan is that it isn't really practical. Proponents of
the bill point out that it does not alter the existing permitting
process, so that only reputable museums and universities will be granted
permits to excavate in Makoshika. Let's examine that for a moment.

If
you're a museum or university and Makoshika invites you to come out and
furnish your personnel, your expertise, your equipment and your
financial resources to collect a specimen that you know may likely not
end up in your (or any other) museum collection, will potentially be
lost to science, and will ulltimately end up further fueling the
commercial trade in vertebrate fossils that is already actively damaging
your field of study, what would your response be?

I could speculate, but I wouldn't want to offend anyone with such colorful language.

So if the only people who can qualify for the permits won't want to excavate in Makoshika, then how does this work?

Listening
to the audio testimony during the hearings of HB 392, it became clear
that there are some serious misperceptions about the field of
paleontology.

It was suggested that the Museum of the Rockies
(Montana State University) is like a hunter who refuses share their
prime hunting grounds with other hunters. This is a poor analogy. Many
other "hunters" (in this case other museums and universities) regularly
do field work in Montana, and they do collect fossils and take them
home. MSU has no problem with this, because they know that although
those specimens may not reside at MOR, they will reside in a curated
museum collection that is accessible to science and to the public.

It
was also suggested that because MOR is "out of room" for more dinosaurs
that they don't want any more specimens. While there are space
concerns at MOR (and at most museums) this doesn't mean that there is no
interest in acquiring further specimens. If they didn't want any more,
they wouldn't keep sending out multiple field crews season after
season.

It was suggested that once a museum has a few Triceratops
specimens, they don't need any more anyway. Much of science, including
paleontology is reliant on sample sizes that are large enough to
produce statistically significant results. Four Triceratops
specimens is nice, but fifty is better. A hundred is better still.
Even though a museum might have several specimens ascribed to the same
genus, each one has unique information that enhances our understanding
of that animal. I myself discovered new information about the palatal
anatomy of T. rex while reconstructing a skull that was collected in the 1960's. T. rex has been known to science for over a century, but it was that T. rex that yielded this new information. Each specimen matters.

I
think that rather than establishing a dangerous precedent and
potentially losing important scientific data, Makoshika should sell
experiences rather than selling their fossils. They should consider
running a "dinosaur dude ranch" type of field school, where individuals
pay to come and learn how to excavate fossils under the supervision of
trained professionals. They wouldn't get to keep what they dig up, but
they would keep a memorable experience. Other organizations (including
Museum of the Rockies) have successfully run similar programs, and
Makoshika could too.

I'm thrilled that Rep. Doane wants to help Makoshika find some much-needed revenue, but there are better answers than HB 392.

Michael Holland
Bozeman, MT

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Boesse

Hey Mike, it's Bobby. Well said!

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Auspex

There is an opportunity, wrought by the current economic conditions, to craft a program beneficial to education, science, and local funding. It should be possible to tap this natural resource in a non-destructive way...

...Makoshika should sell

experiences rather than selling their fossils. They should consider

running a "dinosaur dude ranch" type of field school, where individuals

pay to come and learn how to excavate fossils under the supervision of

trained professionals. They wouldn't get to keep what they dig up, but

they would keep a memorable experience. Other organizations (including

Museum of the Rockies) have successfully run similar programs, and

Makoshika could too...

If this could be made to work, it's a three-way win.

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