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KansasFossilFinder

Fossil Hunting And The Law

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KansasFossilFinder

I was reading about someone getting in trouble for collecting fossils on the missouri river because it was on the corps of engineers land and that led me to thinking where it is okay to collect and where its not if you know anything about some basic laws or if you know anything about Kansas or Missouri restrictions. A more specific question, is the clinton lake spillway okay to collect on since the corps of engineers built it what are the restrictions for things like that. Thanks in Advance.

Edited by KansasFossilFinder

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Auspex

Regarding your specific site, it would be best to contact the Corps of Engineers. Corps of Engineers' property typically requires permission from the responsible manager of that property; this includes many reservoirs.

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KansasFossilFinder

Thats what I thought since I could not find any information about this.

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jpevahouse

Fossil hunting on public lands is illegal unless otherwise authorized by the government agency administering the land. There are fossil sites here in NJ on nature preserves which are open to public fossil collecting but with some restrictions like no digging. There are also sites like Ellisdale designated a protected historical resource which are off limits to fossil collecting.

I think legally stream beds are considered public domain, not owned by any individual? However, the land surrounding a stream can be private property with all the obvious restrictions. Collectors take a chance hunting on private property and are unwise to venture on public lands and parks. I know a guy who spent a year and half in federal prison for digging in a national park.

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FossilDAWG

"Fossil hunting on public lands is illegal unless otherwise authorized by the government agency administering the land."

Surface collecting of invertebrates and plants is permitted on BLM lands, which are public lands. Some surface collecting is also permitted in National Forests, though the regulations regarding the amount of material that can be collected is under discussion. Collection of vertebrate fossils, and any collecting that involves excavation, requires a permit, which will only be given to qualified researchers. National and state parks and monuments are off limits unless they specifically state collecting is OK (true only for some state parks, never for national parks). It's wise to make inquiries with local managers, especially in the case of land administered by the Army Corps of Engineers, which includes many dam spillways and reservoirs.

If you are not sure, it's best to ask local managers. Better to be told "no" than to be told "you're under arrest".

"I think legally stream beds are considered public domain, not owned by any individual?"

This varies from state to state. Generally the concept of "navigable waters" is what is important. In some states, anything you can canoe, kayak, or float a raft in, is considered navigable. In others, only waters deep enough for commercial shipping is considered navigable. For example, in my state (Georgia) only rivers deep enough for barges are legally considered "navigable waters"; such rivers exist only below the fall line, down on the coastal plain. In rivers and streams that don't qualify as navigable, property lines go to the middle of the stream. Florida has a different standard, which permits collecting from most river beds (unless forbidden by local regulations such as water management areas). So, check the rules in your state.

A related issue applies to collecting along the coast. Some states (e.g. Maryland) put the private property line at the high tide line. Others, such as Virginia, put it at the low tide line. In Maryland you can walk the beach at low tide and pick up fossils legally, but in Virginia if you are not standing in the water you are trespassing.

"I know a guy who spent a year and half in federal prison for digging in a national park."

Digging is a big no-no. Was he also collecting vertebrate fossils? Was he a commercial collector planning to sell what he collected? I'd suspect at least one of those applied to earn a jail sentence. Note that penalties also include fines, and often forfeiture of your vehicle. Ouch!!

Don

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Vordigern

what about ichnofossils? Im planning on taking my kids to a site on Saturday known for grallator and rynchosaur tracks.

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Blastoid

No point asking here. You need local information. You really going to trust some stranger on the internet to interpret the law that might ruin your life???

Hardly worth the risk, would be my opinion.

Fossil collecting of any kind will be extinct before long.

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Herb

In most states if you are in a boat on a stream or river you are not trespassing until you get out and wade. The river bed is owned by someone.

Most states will allow you to surface collect ( invertebrates) along state road cuts as long as you are not obstructing traffic or endangering anyone. Digging is a no,no. so is collecting along Interstates.

I have never had an issue collecting along roads, except for one time in Ohio on a road I didn't know was an Interstate. The OSP officer stopped and politely asked us what we were doing. We told him fossil collecting. He politely said it was prohibited on this road.We said Ok, sorry, he wished us a nice day and we left.

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jpevahouse

The person I knew who spent time in federal prison was digging on a Civil War battlefield national park at night. The legality or lack of it should be obvious to even the most naive person but then there's always someone willing to take the chance. NJ has a good record on historic preservation and thankfully includes a few fossil sites legally protected. There are plenty of places to hunt fossils in this state and collectors should be mature enough to accept they can't have everything they want. We all have to make compromises for the sake of everyone else. Even then some people just can't get the point.

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William

The person I knew who spent time in federal prison was digging on a Civil War battlefield national park at night. The legality or lack of it should be obvious to even the most naive person but then there's always someone willing to take the chance. NJ has a good record on historic preservation and thankfully includes a few fossil sites legally protected. There are plenty of places to hunt fossils in this state and collectors should be mature enough to accept they can't have everything they want. We all have to make compromises for the sake of everyone else. Even then some people just can't get the point.

Yeah, caught there at night...there's not much you could come up with to explain why you're there.

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Ash

Avoiding sunburn, but catching some sweet moon tan rays?

Sorry, sorry.

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FossilDAWG

He's a vampire, and he's looking for an amulet he dropped during the battle 150 years ago?

Don

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Uncle Siphuncle

geocaching... no daylight required

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Auspex

geocaching... no daylight required

"Geo Cashing", more likely...

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JimB88

waittaminute..theres a Civil War battlefield in NJ?

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xonenine

here is a "locations" jumping off point for contacting the local Army Corp of Engineers office nearest your area of choice for fossiling...

http://www.usace.army.mil/Contact/OfficeLocator.aspx

and here is the general contact page, for all locales - take note that you can request a reply via the checkboxes, it would be interesting to hear if you do make contact, both the turnaround time for a response, and the outcome :)

http://www.usace.army.mil/Contact.aspx

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jpevahouse

The Civil War battle is The Shiloh Battlefield National Park in Tennessee. My understanding is Shiloh was the first battlefield park and the national cemetery there the first national cemetery. My dad's cousin, killed at the Battle of the Bulge, is buried there next to a tombstone which says "9 Union Soldiers". Relatives fought at Shiloh on the Confederate side.

I'd prefer relic hunters respect this "hallowed ground".

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jpevahouse

Someone mentioned earlier it is OK to dig on some federally managed lands. UH? Removing anything from government property is "theft of government property." Every year articles appear in the news of people arrested for removing stuff from federal lands. A good example a couple of years ago of a guy who had an arrangement with a federal employee in Alaska who was letting the guy remove mammonth remains from federal land where she worked. They had a regular business going until they got caught and got in big trouble, huge fine, jail time.

Another example in recent times, a guy caught chipping an oreodont skull from a rock formation out west. Problem was he was on federal property. Got in big trouble.

If something is not on your property you don't own it. Think of an instance where you can go on someone elses property take something without permission and not be sealing. You might get away with it but it's still not legal. What if I started digging up your back yard and found some valuable old stuff would you say "Gee, great find, take all my valuable stuff you want."

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Auspex

The Paleontological Resources Preservation Act requires that agencies such as the BLM and Forest Service adopt regulations that accommodate reasonable non-commercial collecting on Federal lands they administer: LINK

Removing anything from a National Park is forbidden.

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FossilDAWG

Re: jpevahouse

Both of your examples concern removal of vertebrate fossils. Removal of vertebrate fossils without a permit is indeed illegal.

You are wrong, though, to portray the situation as applying to all fossil collecting. Different rules apply to the collection of invertebrate and plant fossils. Surface collection of invertebrate and plant fossils is permitted from BLM land, and from National Forest lands (though in the latter case regulations governing how much can be collected annually are under development). Removal of anything from National Park and National Monument lands without appropriate permits is forbidden. Regulations concerning State lands vary from State to State, as do lands held by municipalities.

I also disagree with your insinuation that government land is comparable to private property. Government land is owned by the people, and is managed by the relevant government agency at least in theory to achieve the broadest public good. Out West, much BLM land is leased by ranchers for cattle grazing. The ranchers do not own the land, they do not pay taxes on it, and they cannot legally forbid your access, though they may take reasonable measures to protect their livestock. Accessing BLM land is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT from trespassing on my neighbor's private property. Collecting invertebrate fossils from BLM land is in no way, shape, or form comparable to digging up my neighbor's back yard.

Don

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Herb

The Paleontological Resources Preservation Act requires that agencies such as the BLM and Forest Service adopt regulations that accommodate reasonable non-commercial collecting on Federal lands they administer: LINK

Removing anything from a National Park is forbidden.

AND most State and city parks

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ecleland

My friends have told me of a good location to surface collect shell fossils but I believe that the city of Williamsburg owns the land would it be legal to take these fossils?

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Auspex

My friends have told me of a good location to surface collect shell fossils but I believe that the city of Williamsburg owns the land would it be legal to take these fossils?

I think the land owner would be the one to ask, but if the property is part of Colonial Williamsburg, I would thing that collecting of any kind would be prohibited.

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jpevahouse

I've collected since I was five years old. I've been through fossil, Indian relic and more recently bottle collecting most of my life. I've seen the good, bad and ugly of collectors ranging from treasure hunters, scavengers to amateur scientists. I've seen Indian village sites and graveyards destroyed by pot hunters, important historic sites violated and outright thievery on just about every level. If I've learned anything in my old age it's to respect other people and their property with the same respect I expect from them. If something isn't mine I accept that I have no inherent right to simply take it from someone else or their property.

I don't see what's so hard about that to understand.

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Wrangellian

If it's public land and it's legal to collect there, or if it's private and you have asked and received permission to collect, what's wrong with that? I don't think anyone here is advocating anything besides.

Edited by Wrangellian

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