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!