The Public Land Law Review Commission

The direction of federal thinking and probably of future law on the use of federal lands is contained in the report of the Public Land Law Review Commission, which made a five-year study of laws governing the third of the nation's area that is federally owned. Most of these lands are in the western states and Alaska. The Commission recommended that the United States retain these lands instead of trying to dispose of them as in the past, and it also recommended that a policy of classifying lands by their dominant use be adopted. Furthermore, it favored charging for use of public lands; for instance, it recommended a fee for recreational purposes, which would include collecting.

The Commission further recognized "hobby mineral collecting" and recommended that it be permitted on the "unappropriated public domain" under regulations set up by the Secretary of the Interior, who would oversee permit requirements and fees to be charged. Presumably this would permit collecting for personal use on any public lands where it would not interfere with a designated dominant use, such as grazing, mining, farming, or lumbering.

State Laws

Some state regulations and laws also apply to collecting. Below is a summary of those reported in force most recently:

ALABAMA — No specific regulations apply to fossil collecting. ALASKA — State reserves mineral and fossil rights when selling or granting state-owned lands. "The right to extract fossils (presumably commercially) must be leased from the state."

ARIZONA — Private interests own 16 percent of land, to which trespass law would apply; United States owns 71.1 percent, to which Antiquities Act and petrified wood rules would apply; and for the remaining area, state has its own antiquities act which restricts wholesale collecting. ARKANSAS — No specific regulations applying to fossil collecting. Landowner relieved of responsibility for injury to person he has admitted to his land.

CALIFORNIA — State laws forbid removal, destruction or injury to vertebrate fossils, including fossil footprints, from state-owned lands without permission of the state agency controlling the area. No geological specimens of any sort may be removed from state parks without permission. Digging or carrying away of stone without permission is specifically defined as an act of trespass. .Trespass laws covering private property are enforced strictly. COLORADO — No applicable law reported.

CONNECTICUT — Owner may register land for recreational use and become exempt from responsibility for injury to person entering land. DELAWARE — No specific laws except for trespass on private lands, but the U.S. Corps of Engineers objects to wholesale collecting along the Chesapeake and Delaware canal as a theft of federal property. FLORIDA — The state's regulations for preserving objects of historic or scientific value include fossils, but the laws have been set up primarily to control treasure hunters and have apparently not been enforced against amateur collectors.

GEORGIA — No specific regulations that apply to fossil collecting. HAWAII — Few fossils exist and no regulations about them have been passed.

IDAHO — Vertebrate fossils may be excavated or removed from the state only by permission of the state historical society under regulations for preservation of historic sites.

ILLINOIS — State retains rights over aboriginal remains and sites but has no specific regulations regarding collection of fossils.

INDIANA — State has law against damaging cave formations but none regarding collecting of fossils. Landowner is exempted from responsibility for injury to anyone entering his property, by permission or without it. IOWA — Restricts collecting only in parks and other state-owned areas. KANSAS — Permission of the antiquities commission is needed to dig for archeological objects, but apparently this has not been extended to fossils. KENTUCKY — The department of archeology at the University of Kentucky issues permits for archeological digs on public lands, but apparently this has not been required of fossil collectors. Owners are released from liability for damages arising from injury to a hunter on their lands, with or without permission.

LOUISIANA — No specific regulations apply to fossil collecting. Owner or occupant of land has no responsibility to keep premises safe for anyone who enters on it, with or without permission.

MAINE — State has few fossils, and no laws applying to fossils. MARYLAND — Ownership of antiquities belongs to state, and permission to excavate them is given by the Geological Survey. No laws apply specifically to fossils. Landowner is not held responsible for safety of premises or injury to hunters; presumably this would apply to fossil collectors, too. MASSACHUSETTS — State has landowner's release law for hunters and fishermen.

MICHIGAN — Restricts excavation of antiquities or aboriginal material, but consent of landowner is enough for removal of objects from privately held land. Trespass is defined as willful carrying away of any stone, etc., worth more than $5 without permission of landowner. Landowner is not responsible for safety of persons entering his land for outdoor recreational purposes.

MINNESOTA — No specific regulations apply to fossil collecting. MISSISSIPPI — State exempts individuals making natural-history collections for scientific purposes from regulations on excavation of objects of historic or scientific value. Permits are granted to qualified persons and institutions.

MISSOURI — Restriction on fossil collecting exists only in state parks, and fossils may be collected there with permission of the park superintendent. MONTANA — Antiquities law is patterned after the federal act. The state attorney general has ruled that it can apply to fossil collecting but has not been so applied. It might be applied against wholesale collecting for profit. NEBRASKA — Ranchers have obtained a strict trespass law which does not require them to post signs, but owner of land is relieved of liability for safety of persons on his land for recreational purposes, either with or without permission.

NEVADA — The State Museum may post petrified wood sites against collecting to preserve them. A permit is needed from the state on state lands and from the federal government on federal lands to excavate prehistoric sites, which are defined to include paleontological deposits. But collecting of gems, fossils, or artifacts is allowed without permit if the collecting is not done on a prehistoric site.

NEW HAMPSHIRE — State has few fossils and no laws regulating collecting.

NEW JERSEY —The state has no law restricting the collecting of fossils, but it assumes good behavior from persons permitted to enter on land for such purposes. The state has a law relieving landowners of any responsibility for making certain their property is safe for persons entering on the land for recreational or sports purposes.

NEW MEXICO — Science commission supervises collecting, and a system of state monuments has been created to preserve sites of scientific value. Permits to collect from state monuments must be obtained from commissioner of lands. Apparently no state regulation of other areas. NEW YORK — Collecting permits on state-owned lands are issued to persons "who are professionally competent" by the assistant commissioner for State Museum and Science Service, State Education Department, Albany, 12224. Permits are good for a year.

NORTH CAROLINA —No specific regulations apply to fossil collecting but do regulate collecting of artifacts.

NORTH DAKOTA — Qualified persons and institutions are permitted to excavate paleontological material for a $5 permit fee, but all material from state-owned land must be given to state. Landowner may collect on his own land or give other persons permission without a state permit. OHIO — No specific regulations apply to fossil collecting. OKLAHOMA — Only restriction is to get permission to collect on private land.

OREGON — Persons allowed to make natural history collections for scientific purposes, but permit should be obtained from division of state lands to collect on state lands. Regulations may also be prescribed for collecting petrified wood or gemstones on state lands, and collectors may be required to return as much as one-quarter of what they collect to the state. All beaches and recreation areas are open to public use. Landowners may not be held responsible for safety of persons entering on their lands. PENNSYLVANIA — No specific regulations apply to fossil collecting. RHODE ISLAND —Has no landowner's release law and has no state agency concerned with its few fossil deposits.

SOUTH CAROLINA —No specific regulations apply to fossil collecting. SOUTH DAKOTA — Permit is required from the state historical society to make archeological excavations on public lands.

TENNESSEE — Owner has the responsibility for making his land reasonably safe for invited guests but has no responsibility for trespassers. TEXAS — Landowner may not be held responsible for safety of persons to whom he gives permission to enter on his property.

UTAH — Casual collecting of petrified wood, fossils, and gemstones in small quantities from unrestricted state or federal lands is permissible if the material is for personal noncommercial use. Otherwise a permit is required. Small quantities are defined as ten pounds or less a day or one hundred pounds a season. No collecting is allowed in national monuments or parks or state parks, or Bureau of Land Management or local recreational areas. Major excavation of paleontological deposits on state or federal lands requires permission of the state park and recreation commission, the county board, and, if on federal land, the federal agency concerned. VERMONT — No specific regulations on collecting of fossils. VIRGINIA — No specific regulations on collecting of fossils. A landowner does not assume liability for the safety of persons he admits to his property.

WASHINGTON — Recent law frees a landowner of responsibility for injury to persons using his land for recreation with his permission, provided that he posts warning signs in any potentially dangerous area. WEST VIRGINIA —No specific regulations on collecting of fossils. A state antiquities commission regulates collecting on state lands, but apparently its jurisdiction does not extend to amateur collecting for personal use. WISCONSIN — State's trespass law relates primarily to hunters and fishermen. No specific law regulates collecting of fossils.

WYOMING — Collectors of fossils and artifacts from state-owned lands are required to get a permit from the commissioner of lands at the State Capital in Cheyenne. Collecting is permitted only for scientific purposes.

Essentially, then, a few states have regulations on fossil collecting, but even they make relatively little attempt to deny the amateur the right to gather surface fossils for his own use on public land not otherwise dedicated. None of the states attempts to keep jurisdiction over privately owned lands, although a few reserve mineral rights on lands sold to individuals. A growing number of states are making it easier for an owner to give permission by their owner-release laws, which relax barriers erected by insurance companies which might have to satisfy claims arising from an accident.

Roadside collecting may be prohibited by state police, particularly on interstate highways, where roadside parking is usually limited to emergencies. It would be wise to ask the state police whether collecting is allowed in road cuts if the car is parked on another road or in a designated rest area.

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  • fethawi kifle
    What is the law on fossils collecting in colorado state parks?
    8 years ago
  • tuija
    Where do you get a permit for fossil digging in CT?
    8 years ago
  • sofia
    Is petrified wood violate the antiquities act montana?
    8 years ago
  • Rita
    Are permits required to dig for fossils on public LANDS?
    5 months ago

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