USDA Proposes Rules to Protect U.S. Artifacts

     WASHINGTON (DC) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced a proposed regulation meant to ensure the proper management, protection and preservation of paleontological resources on federal land.
     The fossil management would include using “scientific principles and expertise, collecting of resources with and without a permit, curation in an approved repository, maintaining confidentiality of specific locality data, and authorizing penalties for illegal collecting, sale, damaging, or otherwise altering or defacing paleontological resources,” according to the proposal.
     The regulation would, in part, make dig locations exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests, would close off areas near paleontological sites, give “authorized officers” a process to determine whether a paleontological resource should be managed as such, designate other natural resources such as coal, oil or natural gas as non-paleontological resources, provide a permit structure for digs and allow for “casual collecting,” according to the USDA’s action.
     The regulations would be implemented by the U.S. Forest Service under the direction of the USDA and the Secretary of Agriculture, and would apply to resources on all federal lands including Bureau of Land Management and Native American tribal tracks.
     The USDA said the regulation has been in the works since at least 1999 when the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee requested the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Forest Service and the Smithsonian Institute prepare a report on fossil resource management on public lands. The agencies were asked to analyze the need for a unified federal policy for the collection, storage and preservation of fossils, the need for standards to maximize the availability of fossils for scientific study and the effectiveness of current preservation methods, according to the USDA’s action.
     A report was submitted to Congress in 2000 and, subsequently, the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act was introduced in the 107th Congress. It did not become law, however, until the 111th Congress when it was reintroduced in combination with other natural resources legislation in an omnibus bill under the Public Land Management Act of 2009, according to the USDA’s action.
     The USDA added that it is important to preserve paleontological resources for future generations because they are “nonrenewable” and an “irreplaceable part of America’s natural heritage.”
     Comments are due by July 22.

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