Tuesday, January 17, 2017


This posting is a little off the track of my "normal" work; however, it might be of interest to some readers!  As a member of the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society, I also am a member of the Rocky Mountain Federation of Mineralogical Societies (see www.rmfms.org).  The Federation has a number of Committees (see website) and I chair the International Relations Committee---not because I have a great deal of knowledge about such matters but because I volunteered to help the Federation.  In fact, the recent posting on BLM fossil collecting rules was written for another Committee I chair, the Public Lands Access Committee.  The following is my report for the annual Federation meeting---March, Albuquerque.    


Mike Nelson                   

csrockguy@yahoo.com  www.csmsgeologypost.blogspot.com

I have found that being Chair of the RMFMS International Relations Committee is not an onerous job and actually produces some interesting questions.  Some are easily answered, while others require some serious thought before an answer.  Most questions coming from international rockhounds fall in the area of  “I am visiting INSERT STATE where can I collect minerals or fossils?”  I make an attempt to answer these inquiries for states of which I am somewhat familiar—most of the Great Plains, a few in the Midwest and Rocky Mountains.  My first line of defense is to suggest state rockhounding and geology “travel” books, the second is to recommend websites of the various state geological surveys. My third line is to suggest joining a local rock and mineral club in order to participate in their fields trips and will point rockhounds to appropriate clubs. Then I attempt to explain about collecting on federal and state land as well as trespassing on private land.  Collecting minerals would seem an easy talk; however, try explaining claims and markers—and my warning about: do not even venture to Mt. Antero looking for aquamarines.  First, because of the high altitude (13,000 feet) a rockhound could die, but second, virtually the entire mountain is claimed.

Explaining about collecting fossils used to be an easy task---stay away from vertebrate fossils, fill up any collecting holes in searching for invertebrate fossils, and keep under the pound limit for petrified word.  However, the new collecting rules on USFS and BLM lands confuses even professional paleontologists.  

I have received three inquiries from international rockhounds with questions like “I purchased this specimen (photo enclosed) at a mineral fair but the only listed locality is INSERT STATE.  Can you help me find the locality?”  A photo of calcite sand crystals was fairly easy to pinpoint as Rattlesnake Butte in South Dakota (some want latitude and longitude).  I gave an educated guess for azurite blueberries as coming from the Blue Crystal Mine in the La Sal Mountains in Utah.  A specimen with garnets probably came from New England but where?

I also receive requests to send or trade minerals.  One person wanted me to send over samples of sand, including a sample containing azurite crystals.  I have not provided any sample or minerals for international shipments since some countries have laws prohibiting the import of rockhounding “stuff.”

A couple of gentlemen from the U.S. wanted information about bringing precious stones back from their upcoming vacation visit to southeast Asia.  What do I know about that—very little.  First, I suggested contacting a reputable dealer and not purchasing any nice-looking stones (like rubies) from a street seller.  Second, I told them to search information established by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.  For satisfying my own curiosity I found the following information:

Personal imports of these items are usually cleared informally and do not require a Customs bond. However, if you purchased them while you were abroad, ensure you declare them when clearing Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on the CBP Form 6059B. Imports of diamonds, pearls, rubies, sapphires and emeralds from countries with normal trade relation status are duty-free as long as they are not permanently strung, set or mounted. Additional duty rates for these items can be found in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) in chapter 71.  

When these items are set, or mounted with some sort of metal, they are classified as jewelry and subject to duty. These rates can also be found in chapter 71. Diamonds also require a Kimberley Certificate, more information can be found on the State Department brochure and website

Please be aware that there are sanctions against diamonds imported from Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia and other countries. Visit the Kimberley Process website for the most recent list of countries.  See the Kimberley Process Certificate Scheme.  Additional information on sanctions against diamonds from these countries can be found Office of Foreign Assets Control's Web site.  Additional information can also be obtained from the World Diamond Council.

Finally, a person wanted to know about buying ivory for his scrimshaw work and “coral” for jewelry.  He/she also wanted to know about using “fossil ivory” (Mammoth and Mastodons and relatives).

There has been a ban on ivory (elephant) importation since the late 1980s.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also notes the following are prohibited---see: https://www.fws.gov/le/travelers.html);

  • All products made from sea turtles
  • All ivory, both Asian and African elephant
  • Rhinoceros horn and horn products
  • Furs from spotted cats
  • Furs and ivory from marine mammals
  • Feathers and feather products from wild birds
  • Most crocodile and caiman leather
  • Most coral, whether in chunks or in jewelry

In other words, Fish and Wildlife states: The United States generally prohibits the importation of ivory. Don’t bring home raw ivory or ivory jewelry, carvings, or figurines made from the tusks of either African or Asian elephants. Avoid raw or carved ivory from the teeth or tusks of walruses, whales, narwhals, and seals. 

A couple of decades ago I presented a paper on muskoxen at a University in Saskatoon.  While waiting in the airport I wandered through the gift shop and noted these “cute” little furry seal skin dolls.  I almost purchased one as they were popular among travelers.  A stroke of genius: the cute little dolls were confiscated by U.S. federal agents after entering the country (see list above).

There are also a host of regulations and questions revolving around selling and trading “antique” ivory chess sets, figurines, pianos, etc. that are personal items found in the home.  Answering questions about this sort of trade is beyond my pay grade so contact federal authorities.  With that noted, before you hide grandpa’s watch fob, realize that: federal wildlife laws and regulations such as CITES, the ESA, and the AfECA do not prohibit possessing or display of ivory, provided it was lawfully acquired. There is no certification requirement or process to register ivory items and you do not need a permit from the Service to possess or display ivory for noncommercial purposes. We (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) recommend that you maintain any records or documentation you have that demonstrates the origin and chain of ownership of the item. We recommend that you provide all documentation to any future recipient of your elephant ivory item. Check to make sure that you are also in compliance with local and state laws. Contact the state to check on their requirements.

But what about using Mammoth or Mastodon ivory?  I do note that “fossil ivory” is common at most rock and mineral shows; therefore, the trade must be legal.   Maybe, but then again, some states are starting to prohibit the sale/purchase of ivory from Mammoths (usually) or Mastodons.  According to the American Association of Paleontological Suppliers (AAPS), California, New Jersey, Hawaii, and New York have new laws banning the sale of “fossil ivory.”  For example, the Hawaii law states: (d) Except as authorized under section 183D-6, no person shall sell, offer to sell, purchase, trade, or barter for any part or product from mammoth (Mammuthus), although the species is extinct.

AAPS also notes (www.aaps-journal.org) that several other states are examining/constructing laws concerning the sale of “fossil ivory” ----

1. New Arizona; House Bill HB 2176 (Includes Mammoth Ivory and teeth), Introduced January 25, 2016, Died in Committee
2. Arkansas; Senate Bill 928 (Killed in Committee)
3. California; Assembly Bill No. 96 (Includes Mammoth Ivory), Passed the State Senate September 2, 2015, Passed the State Assembly September 4, 2015, Sent to the Governor for his signature. This act shall become operative on July 1, 2016
4. Connecticut; Proposed Bill No. 5700 (Vague definition of Ivory), Tabled for the Calendar, House May 5, 2015.
5. Florida; Senate Bill 1120 (Includes Mammoth Ivory), Died in Environmental Preservation and Conservation Location: In committee/council (EP), May 1, 2015.
6. Hawaii; Senate Bill 674 (Includes Mammoth Ivory), Currently in Committee, scheduled to become Effective 01/01/16. 7. Illinois; Senate Bill 1858 (Includes Mammoth Ivory), Currently in Committee, May 15, 2015.
8. Iowa; SF 30 (Includes Mammoth Ivory) In Sub-committee February 11, 2015.
9. Maryland; House Bill 713 (Vague definition of Ivory), Unfavorable Report by Judiciary, remains in Committee, March 16, 2015.

10. Massachusetts; House 1275 (Includes Mammoth Ivory) Remains in Committee January 20, 2015.
11. Nevada; Senate Bill 398 (Includes Mammoth Ivory) Remains in Committee, Pursuant to Joint Standing Rule No. 14.3.1, no further action allowed April 11, 2015.
12. Oklahoma; HB1787 (Vague definition of Ivory), Second Reading referred to Wildlife Committee February 3, 2015.
13. Rhode Island; House 5660 (Includes Mammoth Ivory) Committee recommended measure be held for further study, April 15, 2015.
14. Vermont; House 297 (Includes Mammoth Ivory), In Committee February 24, 2015; in Conference Committee 2016.

15. Washington; House Bill 1131 (Includes Mammoth Ivory) By resolution, reintroduced and retained in present status. June 28,2015.
16. Oregon; Senate Bill 913 (Includes Mammoth Ivory). Currently in Committee.

17. Delaware; Senate Bill 156 (Includes Mammoth Ivory) Senate Banking and Business Committee June 24, 2015.
18. Michigan; Senate Bill 371 (Includes Mammoth Ivory); in Committee.
19. Virginia; Senate Bill 1215 (Killed in Committee).

If I thought regulations concerning ivory were difficult to understand, I certainly was not prepared for “corals.”   The only thing I know about bringing dried pieces of coral into the U.S. came from an experience several years ago, (~10) when Fish and Wildlife (or some federal agency) removed small pieces of dried coral from my backpack as I was returning from a visit to the Caribbean.  “They” left behind a card stating that such items were not permitted into the U.S.  What I have now found from Fish and Wildlife is:  Coral species may be protected under international, domestic or even state environmental laws.  Black corals (Antipatharia) were listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in 1981.  In 1985, amidst concerns about the effects of commercial trade on fragile coral ecosystems, the CITES Parties listed all stony corals, blue corals (Helioporidae), organ pipe corals (Tubiporidae), and fire corals (Milleporidae)…  Lace corals (Stylasteridae) were later added… and China has listed 4 species of red coral…

Some coral species are listed under the Endangered Species Act. Visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's (Service) Endangered Species Program page to learn more about these listings.

Each U.S. state may have separate regulations that control the harvest of coral within its waters. In addition, there are different regulations when handling wild-harvested or captive-bred coral. It is strongly recommended that you contact your state wildlife agency and the Service's Branch of Permits before importing or exporting coral.

What that all means is that I don’t have the slightest idea if you can bring coral into the U.S. for making jewelry!  Contact Fish and Wildlife.

As a bit of small trivia, do not try and bring the liquor Absinthe (anything containing Artemisia absinthium) into the U.S.  The only thing I know about the liquor is that cool guys and ladies drink the bitters in New Orleans.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) enforces federal regulations on absinthe brought into the country. So, recognize their rules and realize your bottle may be seized if:
  • The absinthe is not "thujone-free."  Thujone is a chemical compound found in wormwood that acts on certain receptors in the brain.  I suppose the thujone-free stipulation is similar to some medicinal marijuana that has a very low content of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive part of cannabis.  But that is only a guess.   
  • The bottle has "absinthe" as the brand name
  • The bottle has "artwork and/or graphics" that depicts "images of hallucinogenic, psychotropic or mind-altering effects."

Remembering my days as a Ranger leading field trips in the Uinta Basin, I note Artemisia species include A. vulgaris (common mugwort), A. tridentata (big sagebrush), A. annua (sagewort), A. absinthium (wormwood), A. dracunculus (tarragon), and A. abrotanum (southernwood).  I never tried to distill the abundant sagebrush!
Life-long learning needs to be fun and interesting!

Thursday, January 5, 2017


It is not knowledge, but the act of learning, not possession but the act of getting there, which grants the greatest enjoyment. 
          Carl Friedrich Gauss
One of the interesting aspects of collecting minerals is trying to find two minerals where radicals (an atom or molecule [usually the case in mineralogy] with an odd number of electrons) are able to substitute for each other in the chemical formula and create new species.  Radicals are highly reactive since they are always looking around for something to bond with (not unlike many high school boys I knew) since they have a free electron wandering around in orbit.  This free wanderer wants to meet up with an atom looking to obtain an electron in order to stabilize.

Three of the more interesting radicals are PO4, VO4, and AsO4 (phosphorus, vanadium and arsenic combined with oxygen) and are usually organized as the Phosphate Class.  All radicals operate as anions and have a negative charge of -3.  Therefore, they easily (I think) combine with metallic cations with a positive charge.  The resulting minerals are termed the Phosphates, Vanadates, and the Arsenates and all are important in the mineral world.  For example, the mineral apatite (with its many descriptive terms) is the backbone of vertebrate teeth and bones.  In addition, vanadinite with the red barrel-shaped crystals, and all of the colorful arsenates (like the pink erythrite), are eagerly sought by mineral collectors. 
The arsenate, phosphate and vanadate radicals are of similar size and Jones (2011) noted that solid solution series commonly exist between these radicals with both end members and intermediate members between the arsenate and vanadate radicals and the phosphate and arsenate radicals.  There are no intermediate members between the vanadate and phosphate end members.  This is an interesting situation since in most solid solution series the substitutions are made by the positively charged cations.

At the 2016 Tucson show I was able to pick up a nice arsenate, lavendulan [NaCaCu5(AsO4)4Cl-5H2O], a hydrated copper arsenate that forms as a secondary mineral in “oxidized zones of some copper deposits” (MinDat). The specimen appears as sort of a crust of intense electric blue on the matrix.  However, on closer examination under high power one can observe the crust is composed of very tiny aggregates of thin platy crystals, some of which form rosettes. An older label indicates collection at El Guanaco Mine, Santa Catalina, Antofagasta Province, Chile, where MinDat noted 31 valid minerals and two type localities.  At the mine copper and gold veins are emplaced in Upper Cretaceous and Paleocene volcanic sequences.  I presume, but am uncertain, that both the copper and the arsenic could be the result of oxidation of the primary mineral enargite [Cu3AsS4].

I also have in my collection a small sample of sampleite (a hydrated copper phosphate) that was picked up at the Denver Show.  Now this particular mineral is the phosphate analogue of lavendulan—note the phosphate radical: NaCaCu5(PO4)4Cl-5H2O.  As noted above, the similar size of the radicals allows substitution of the phosphate radical for the arsenate radical. 

Sampleite is blue to blue-green in color and is found in a variety of habits from encrusting to rectangular tabular crystals to rosettes.  It has a hardness ~4.0 (Mohs), is transparent with a light blue streak and has a pearly luster.  Sampleite is a fairly rare mineral, compared to lavendulan, but both occur in the oxidized zones of arid-region copper deposits.
Small cluster of sampleite crystals, and "balls (upper blobs).  Total width of cluster is ~1 mm. 

Cluster of small blades of sampleite.  Width of large cluster ~1.5 mm.

Cluster of nondescript sampleite crystals.  Width of cluster ~.5 mm.

My small mineral specimen came from the dumps associated with the Endeavour 26 Mine in New South Wales, Australia. MinDat notes that Endeavor 26 is both a surface and underground (currently) gold-copper complex developed as a porphyry vein mineralization in a monzonite that is part of the Goonumbla volcanic complex (Ordovician). The major primary (hypogene) minerals are bornite, chalcopyrite and pyrite.  However, the most interesting thing about the mine is the presence of two distinct and major oxidation zones, one of Carboniferous age and one of Cenozoic; therefore, the host rocks have experienced prolonged weathering cycles (O'Sullivan and others, 2000). 

The upper oxidized zone is dominated by the secondary copper phosphate minerals libethenite (Cu2PO4OH), pseudomalachite (Cu5(PO4)2(OH)4) and the uncommon sampleite. However, this secondary phosphate mineralization was preceded by the formation of another secondary mineral, atacamite (Cu2Cl(OH)3).   Beneath the phosphates is a zone dominated by malachite (Cu2CO3(OH)2), azurite (Cu3(CO3)2(OH)2) and chrysocolla (CuSiO3--nH2O) that gives way at depth to a thin native copper-cuprite (Cu2O)-chalcocite (Cu2S) supergene enriched zone (Clissold and others, 2005).

So, the answers I needed to locate were to the questions about: 1) the original source of the phosphorous; and 2) why are the secondary phosphate minerals located in the upper zone only?  Crane and others (2000) found that weathering of apatite group minerals, especially hydroxylapatite, provided the phosphate for the PO4 radical.  In addition, the zoning of the copper phosphate minerals is due to the distribution of the apatite minerals in the host rock and the intensity of weathering (Ollier, 1984).  Ain’t  learning fun?

For descriptions of pseudomalachite and libethenite (January 4, 2016), lavendulan (March 21, 2016), and atacamite (October 9, 2014) see Blog postings.


Crane, M.J., J.L. Sharpe, and P.A. Williams, 2001, Formation of chrysocolla and secondary copper phosphates in the highly weathered supergene zones of some Australian deposits: Records of the Australian Museum, v. 53.

Clissold, M.E., P. Leverett, and P.A. Williams, 2005, Chemical mineralogy of the oxidized zones of the E22, E26 and E27 ore bodies at Northparkes, New South Wales in Roach, I.C., ed., 2005, Regolith 2005-Ten Years of CRC LEME.

Ollier, C., 1984. Weathering: Longmans Publishing Group, London.

O’Sullivan, P.B., D.L. Gibson, D.L Kohn, B. Pillans, and C.F. Pain,  2000, Long-term landscape evolution of the Northparkes region of the Lachlan Fold Belt, Australia: constraints from fission track and paleomagnetic data: Journal of Geology 108.

Monday, December 26, 2016


On March 30, 2009, the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act (PRPA) became law on lands managed by various agencies of the federal government.  The law had been through numerous drafts before approval by the US Congress and subsequent signing by President Obama.   Although in 1999 the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee asked federal agencies to prepare a report on fossil resource management, most rockhounds, and many professional paleontologists, believed that any new regulations would be written to protect vertebrate fossils (in my opinion).  However, unbeknownst to most amateur fossil collectors, the United States Forest Service (USFS) published (May 23, 2013) draft regulations concerning the collection of invertebrate fossils and plant remains on land managed by the Agency.  The comment period was 60 days and the Agency received few legitimate (non-form letters) concerns.  Candidly, the proposal caught most rockhounds “off guard” and it was tough for rock and mineral clubs to organize informative responses. In my opinion, rockhounds lost many, many collecting privileges associated with invertebrate fossils as the proposed rules are now codified as 80 FR 21588. However, in defense of the USFS, the Agency was simply interpreting tenets of the PRPA, and that is the magic word, at least for me---interpretation.

In December 2016, proposed regulations for lands managed by the Department of Interior (Bureau of Land Management [BLM]; National Park Service [NPS]; Fish and Wildlife Service [FWS]; Bureau of Reclamation [BR]) were published in the Federal Register and became available for comments (received no later than February 6, 2017).  The proposed rule [of Interior] would address the management, collection, and curation of paleontological resources from federal lands using scientific principles and expertise, including collection in accordance with permits; curation in an approved repository; and maintenance of confidentiality of specific locality data.

Most of the proposed regulations (formally known as A Proposed Rule by the Land Management Bureau and the Fish and Wildlife Service on 12/07/2016), but specifically subparts A through H, applies to all four bureaus---BLM, FWS, BR, NPS. Parts A through H are also very similar, perhaps mostly identical, to current USFS regulations (80 FR 21588).  However, Part I of the proposed rules notes some differences  between Interior (BLM and BR) and the USFS regulations regarding actual field collecting of common fossil plants and invertebrates. I should also note that PRPA does not allow casual collecting in areas administered by NPS or FWS.

So, what are some of the proposed items in Interior’s new rules and regulations---hereafter known as the Rule?  I will only hit on a few sections as the proposed Rule, as published in the Federal Register, is tens of pages long.

The Rule does not impose additional requirements regarding fossil collecting activities on permitted lands associated with general mining or mineral laws.  It appears that if you have a permitted mining claim the fossil plants and invertebrates are fair game for any collecting (§ 49.15 …states that the proposed rule does not impose additional requirements on activities permitted under the general mining or mineral laws).  Does this mean that if you are mining sedimentary rocks for minerals (such as barite or uranium) that any and all invertebrates may be collected?  I don’t know; however, that seems to be a reasonable assumption to me.  But remember, my interpretation of various regulations and codifications found in the Federal Register may be subject to suspect.  I do know, however, that a mining claim will not be approved by an Agency simply to allow a person/company to collect fossils.  Any approved mining claim must include some sort of a commodity and fossils are not such.  

The mining claim section of the Rule is an interesting one.  Around this part of the country one permitted mining claim would create more surface disturbance, and could destroy more fossils, than all the Colorado rockhounds added together.  BLM and USFS manage multi-purpose lands; however, some activities are much higher on the pecking order than rockhounding.  

Fossils found in an archaeological context are archaeological resources, and are not considered paleontological resources.  It is always best to not disturb archaeological resources.

An authorized federal officer at BLM or USFS (the person in charge) may decide that specific rocks/minerals, such as coal, chalk beds, diatomites, etc. are not subject to PRPA rules as paleontological resources.  However, there are a myriad of other federal regulations that may protect them.

The Department of Interior has specific Agency regulations concerning the collection of petrified wood on their managed lands.  Petrified wood is managed as a paleontological resource when on or from lands administered by NPS, Reclamation, and FWS. On lands administered by BLM, petrified wood (defined by the Petrified Wood Act of 1962, Pub. L. 87-713, 76 Stat. 652, Sept. 28, 1962 as agatized, opalized, petrified, or silicified wood, or any material formed by the replacement of wood by silica or other matter, and identified as a mineral material under the Materials Act of 1947) is subject to commercial sale at 43 CFR part 3600 and free use regulations at 43 CFR part 3622. Therefore, on BLM lands, petrified wood may be managed as a paleontological resource, but the savings provisions in PRPA (16 U.S.C. 470aaa-10) prevent the imposition of additional restrictions on the sale or free use of petrified wood. When it is not subject to sale or free use, petrified wood on BLM-administered lands may be managed as a paleontological resource and/or under the authority of FLPMA.  My old and used mind fails to understand this latter statement!  Why would not all petrified wood collected on BLM-managed land be free use?

PRPA rules do not apply to “Indian lands.”  However, lands managed by Native Americans always have collecting rules so avoid trespassing.

A federal authorized officer may restrict access or close a collecting area at any time.  Therefore, fossil collecting on federal lands will now essentially involve a visit or call to an agency office.

Microfossils, such as foraminifera and radiolarians, are paleontological resources and are subject to collecting rules---except if you are drilling a permitted energy well.  The drilling bit may then grind up as many microfossils as the driller pleases.  Yes, that last sentence was cynical.

Most individual rockhound collecting of invertebrate and plant fossils (excluding petrified wood) falls under the definition of casual collecting; therefore, such individuals may collect on BLM lands that are not restricted or closed--lands such as BLM-administered national monuments would be closed. The Rule notes casual collectors may collect common invertebrate and common plant paleontological resources…casually. Common invertebrate and common plant paleontological resources are invertebrate or plant fossils that have been established by the bureaus, based on available scientific information and current professional standards, as having ordinary occurrence and wide-spread distribution. But, and there are many “buts” in the Rule, not all invertebrate or plant paleontological resources are common. When in doubt, collectors should err on the side of caution and collect only the resources that they know are common. In other words, pay a visit to an Agency to find out what fossils an officer has decided are “common.”

So, what is a casual collector as defined by the Rule?  Casual collecting means the collecting without a permit of a reasonable amount of common invertebrate or plant paleontological resources for non-commercial personal use, either by surface collection or the use of non-powered hand tools, resulting in only negligible disturbance to the Earth's surface or paleontological or other resources.  Although this seems a restrictive definition, it is much better than the USFS definition: causal collecting is generally happenstance without intentional planning or preparation…, the view of casual collecting as an activity that generally occurs by chance without planning or preparation.  The “good thing” about the Rule and the USFS regulations is that they clarify the allowance of collecting certain fossils from their managed lands.

But here are additional “buts” of the Rule.  The casual collector may only collect 25 pounds per day, not to exceed 100 pounds per year---and this weight includes matrix.  This part of the Rule was modified after the codified collecting rules long established for petrified wood; however, there is a big difference between specimens of petrified wood and invertebrate fossils.  Petrified wood is usually collected without matrix while many invertebrate fossils are collected with matrix. Rockhounds do not want to take a chance of breaking the specimen by chipping away the matrix in the field.  Collectors also may not pool a total weight with their buddy in order to collect larger specimens.  What does this mean for the collection of larger fossils weighing over 25 pounds?  I don’t know.  Perhaps it indicates a permit is required?  However, an issued permit requires a collector give up his/her specimen to a museum or repository!

Collectors also may not disturb over 1 square yard of the landscape, and your digging buddy must be at least ten feet away from your land disturbance.  I am uncertain if a collector may have several disturbances per day?  At any rate, like all good rockhounds, collectors must fill in their disturbance holes.

This restrictive regulation on land disturbance continues to be a problem for me.  If the BLM really wants to stop major land disturbance, then I suggest examining extensive disturbance by domestic livestock, off-trail ATV and OHV riders, and even off-trail mountain bikers and hikers (among others).  I support these multi-use land activities, in moderation, but simply want to point out that land disturbance by rockhounds is minimal compared to these other large-scale activities.   

Casually collected fossils may only be used in a personal collection and may not be sold, bartered, used for financial gain, or research!  I presume this section also means that club members may not use the collected common plants and animals in their club silent auctions.  What about gifting a common plant or invertebrate during a club gift exchange?  Does bartering mean that fossil interest groups may not trade collected fossil specimens?  I don’t have those answers.  But to me the interesting aspect of this tenet is that the casual collector may not use his/her collected fossils for research!  The federal agencies want the collector to get a permit if any of the fossils are used in a research project. I presume the point behind this requirement is to make certain that fossils in the research project are documented as to provenance and placed in an accredited repository.  However, I would like to suggest that any casually collected fossils could be turned voluntarily over to a repository before results of the research are reported.  A case in point---our rock club-sponsored Pebble Pups and Junior Scientists collect fossils and actually write up reports (sometimes published) and present results at meetings where abstracts are refereed.  How can an agency expect a group of Pebble Pubs to submit a permit application (see below)?

Another set of questions, then, involves the definition of research.  If a collector completes a study on a casually collected fossils and later presents information on such organisms at a rock/mineral club meeting---is this research?  What if the collector “publishes” results of their study in a club or federation newsletter, or on a Blog---is this research?  Questions to be answered.  I do not want some of these restrictive clauses in the Rule to stifle the interest of our children and young adults. 

As with the USFS regulations, the Rule requires that only hand tools may be used in collecting fossils.  These excavation tools may not be motorized and must be light and small enough to be hand-carried by one person.  Does this mean that my geological hammer may not be carried in my backpack, or must it be hand-carried?  Does it mean that I cannot bring along a two-wheel cart to pack a 25-pound specimen back to the vehicle (my knees will not allow carrying 25 pounds plus equipment)?  Luckily, Interior listened to criticism directed at USFS over their regulation about size of collecting tools-- but not large tools such as full-sized shovels or pick axes.  I don’t have any trouble carrying a full-size shovel in my hand!

Unfortunately, Interior chose not to rid the regulations of the permitting process for small groups of rockhounds.  I argued against this rule implemented by the USFS without success.  As I read the rules, and perhaps they are beyond my comprehension, it is my understanding that groups of rockhounds heading out to collect some invertebrate fossils must have a permit.  I can understand permitting a group of professionals going out to quarry a marine limestone looking for specific ammonites.  I cannot understand requiring a permit in order for a club’s fossil interest group, or a group of Pebble Pups, heading out on a beautiful fall afternoon to do some prospecting for fossils! If a group of Pebble Pups, some as young as six years old, go fossil hunting at a locality where both common and uncommon invertebrate fossils may be found, then a permit is required (as I try to understand the Rule).  For example, I can envision local localities, actually a number of old quarries, where there is a mixture of common and uncommon lower Paleozoic fossils represented.  These quarries have been prospected for years and rockhounds have almost always submitted their interesting specimens to museums and repositories.  However, the permitting process is a very onerous experience for “ordinary” rockhounds, so what happens?  Collection without a permit continues, with loss of interesting specimens heading to a museum due to a fear of prosecution, or collecting stops and children and adult rockhounds simply drop out.

Assume that a permitted fossil prospecting activity could be pulled off, please note that all prospectors must deposit their fossil finds in a designated repository.  Can you imagine taking kids on a fossil hunt and then taking away their finds?  In addition, the rules and regulations concerning report writing are onerous (for most rockhounds) and would require additional time. 

As a former classroom instructor, I could not imagine applying for a permit every time I took my students fossil hunting.  Certainly, a permit was required whenever a student researcher was out collecting fossils and describing stratigraphy---these collected fossils were deposited in a repository.  In fact, during my early days of writing environmental impact statements (fossils) for projects crossing federal lands I devised my own permits (with approval from the agencies) from items like logging permits.  I am not against permits; however, I simply want to allow for some slack with non-professional collectors.

In addition, mandating that all permitees must deposit their fossils in an approved repository creates other concerns since the requirements for establishing a repository are pretty stiff.  Most colleges and universities with a scientific staff have something, a museum or curated collection, that could qualify as a repository.  But what about the poor old group of rockhounds---would nearby repositories curate their specimens without monetary assistance (Permittee is responsible for the costs, monetary and otherwise, of the permitted activity, including fieldwork, data analysis, report preparation, curation of the collection and its associated records consistent with subpart C of this part)?  I don’t know.  Once fossils are collected under a permit they remain the property of the Agency in perpetuity.  Even if a federal authorized officer removes the collected fossils from the research collection the specimens still remain in repository collection ”somewhere.”

My comments pertain to only a small part of the Rule but are, in my opinion, most directly related to fossil collecting by rockhounds and other amateurs.  I want members of our rock and mineral clubs, including Pebble Pups and Junior Scientists, to have an opportunity to collect fossils without fear of “breaking the law.”  I want these members to have an opportunity to study and photograph and learn about specimens without fear their work is research and requires a permit.  I want members, especially younger members, to have an opportunity to present information at professional meetings about their fossils finds without fear their study requires a permit.  But, I would also expect the mentors of the collector to require fossil specimens be offered to a museum and/or repository along with appropriate provenance information.  I believe there must be some middle ground in this entire permitting and land disturbance issue.  If not, we may begin to lose generations of future STEM graduates that our nation badly needs.

With that said, please note that I have several friends and acquaintances working in the federal agencies.  In fact, I take pride in the fact that some Agency paleontologists were my students and we have remained friends for decades---they do excellent work.  In visiting with these paleontologists, I have found they are, in their opinion, constrained by federal law found in the PRPA.  Perhaps they are; however, I still believe in compromise and middle ground and “working things out.”  Is this possible with the rules in the PRPA?  I don’t know.  Could interpretation of PRPA regulations be less “strict.”  I don’t know.

What I do know is that these new laws (USFS) and the proposed Rule (Interior) are almost impossible to enforce---I am not advocating breaking the law but simply stating my strong opinion that collecting of invertebrate fossils on federal lands will go underground.  Unlike vertebrate fossils, where poachers are interested in selling their unlawfully collected specimens, rockhounds collecting invertebrate fossils are interested in building up a personal collection, trading specimens with club members, and perhaps most importantly helping young children and their schools build collections.  Also unlike the somewhat easily identified vertebrate fossils (yep, that is a dinosaur skull so leave it alone), invertebrate fossils are much more difficult to identify.   I am guessing that most rockhound amateurs will have great difficulty identifying uncommon fossils (need a permit) from common fossils (casual collecting).

So, what advice can I offer?  Take the time to read, or attempt to read, the Federal Register: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/12/07/2016-29244/paleontological-resources-preservation.    After this little chore, rockhounds should submit personal comments, or even pooled comments by several members of the club; however, it is best to not use form letters.  Also, remember as you comment:

    • Provide first and last name, city, state, & country. All other fields of information are optional. Keep in mind that much of this information is publicly viewable.
    • Comments may be typed in the box provided or they may be uploaded as attachments (Word docs or PDFs only).
    • Comments may be brief or in-depth/well-researched. Comments with facts to support them are much more useful (e.g., examples of overlooked scenarios). Keep comments civil and straightforward. Comments using offensive terms, threats, or other inappropriate language will be disregarded.
    • Comments on the proposed rule must be received by February 6, 2017. 

And finally, stop in Agency offices (especially BLM and USFS) and visit with the geologists—they are a nice group of people.  The paleontologists in both the USFS and the BLM are stationed few and far between.  But again, if you are in their area stop in and converse with them.   

Perhaps I am just a crusty old guy remembering “the good old days” of collecting.  But perhaps I am just an old guy seriously worried about the impact of the Rule (and USFS regulations) on school children, Pebble Pups, rockhounds, and interested amateurs.   I want to find a common ground with the USFS and Interior in the permitting processes, the land disturbance issues and the collecting limits.  Will it happen?  Another question that I cannot answer.