Paleontological Resources Management
In addition to the general authorities discussed in the Introduction of this reference manual, several federal and state laws and regulations specifically apply to paleontological resources.
Excavation and Collection of NPS Paleontological Resources
NPS RegulationsNPS regulations at 36 CFR Part 2 prohibit possessing, destroying, injuring, defacing, removing, digging, or disturbing paleontological resources from their natural state on federally-owned NPS lands. Violators of this prohibition are subject to the criminal penalties that are authorized at 36 CFR Part 1. Paleontological resources may be collected from NPS lands only by official representatives of a reputable scientific or educational institution or a state or federal agency who have obtained an NPS permit in compliance with 36 CFR § 2.5. 36 CFR § 2.5 also stipulates cataloging requirements for NPS specimens permanently retained in park museum collections. Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988
Paleontological resources naturally occurring in NPS caves are defined as "cave resources" by the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act (FCRPA), and its implementing regulations at 43 CFR Part 37. The FCRPA requires an NPS permit for any collection or removal of cave resources. Persons who illegally possess, consume, sell, barter, or exchange cave resources, or attempt to do so, are subject to criminal and civil penalties authorized by the FCRPA.
Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979
Unauthorized excavation, removal, or damage (or attempted excavation, removal, or damage) of paleontological resources on federally-owned lands in the National Park System may also be prosecuted under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA), but only if the paleontological resources "are found in archaeological context." "Archaeological context" means "found in a direct physical relationship with archaeological resources...." See 36 CFR § 296.3(a)(4). "Archeological resources" are "any material remains of human life or activities which are at least 100 years of age, and which are of archaeological interest." See 36 CFR § 296.3(a). ARPA requires a permit for the excavation or removal of archaeological resources from federally-owned or Native American tribal trust lands, specifies that such resources will remain the property of the United States after excavation, and prohibits trafficking in archaeological resources obtained in violation of federal, state, or local law. Violators are subject to criminal penalties (up to a $20,000 fine and/or two years' imprisonment if the resource damage exceeds $500) and civil penalties.
16 U.S.C. § 19jj (commonly known as the Park System Resources Protection Act)
If the NPS finds that a park paleontological resource has been stolen or damaged or would have been damaged had the NPS not responded, the Department of the Interior may ask the Department of Justice to file a civil action in order to recover damages equal to the cost of replacing, restoring, or acquiring the equivalent paleontological resource. This Act also mandates the NPS to "undertake all necessary actions to prevent or minimize the destruction, loss of, or injury to park system resources" and to "assess and monitor damages to park system resources."
"Theft of Government Property" Laws
The federal government may prosecute paleontological resource theft and depredation pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 641 and 18 U.S.C. § 1361. These statutes authorize fines of up to $250,000 or imprisonment for up to 10 years. If the value of the stolen/damaged resource is less than $1,000, the statutes authorize fines of up to $100,000 or imprisonment for up to one year.
These statutes were first applied to stolen federal fossil resources in the mid-1990s. With a few highly-publicized prosecutions, these statutes could become effective at deterring future theft of fossils from NPS and other federal lands.
The Antiquities Act of 1906, 16 U.S.C. §§ 431-433, and its implementing regulations at 43 CFR Part 3 should not be relied upon as authority for managing NPS paleontological resources or penalizing their illegal excavation, damage, or collection, until the Act's constitutionality and application to paleontological resources are resolved by the courts.
Confidentiality of Information about NPS Paleontological ResourcesSection 207 of the National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998 (1998 Omnibus Act) authorizes the NPS to withhold information concerning the nature and specific location of paleontological objects or resources in units of the National Park System from the public in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, unless the Secretary determines that (1) disclosure of the information would further the purposes of the unit of the National Park System in which the resource or object is located and would not create an unreasonable risk of harm, theft, or destruction of the resource or object, including individual organic or inorganic specimens and (2) disclosure is consistent with other applicable laws protecting the resource or object.
To protect NPS paleontological resources from illegal collection, the agency will withhold information about the resources’ nature and specific location in response to a Freedom of Information Act request when the Service foresees that disclosure would be harmful. (See NPS Management Policies (2001), § 1.7.3, and Natural Resource Data and Information Management in this Reference Manual).
Preservation of Sites with Paleontological ResourcesThe National Natural Landmarks (NNL) program is authorized by the Historic Sites, Buildings and Antiquities Act. The NNL program is administered by the NPS, but NNLs can be located on federal, state, or private lands. As explained at 36 CFR Part 62, the purpose of the NNL program is to identify, study, designate, recognize, and monitor nationally significant examples of ecological and geological features that constitute the nation's natural heritage, including fossil evidence of life on Earth. These areas can include areas noted for their paleontological significance.
The owners of areas that have been designated as NNLs can, but do not have to, enter voluntary agreements with the NPS to protect, use, and manage the NNL in a manner that prevents the destruction or deterioration of the natural values for which the NNL was designated. The owners can also withdraw from such agreements at any time. The NPS is responsible for preparing an annual report to Congress on known or anticipated threats or damages to any NNLs that may cause the NNL to lose one or more of the values that made it nationally significant.Paleontological Resources Management Table of Contents | RM#77 Table of Contents