For the more information about the geologic resources of the National Park Service, please visit http://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/.


Paleontological Law & Policy

A sauropod dinosaur humerus within the Salt Wash Member of the Jurassic Morrison Formation. Chisel marks and other vandalism to the bone show evidence of the unsuccessful attempts of unauthorized fossil collecting (NPS Photo by Vincent L. Santucci).

The National Park Service (NPS) and other federal agencies operate under the authority of federal law. For example, in 1916 Congress passed the National Park National Park Service Organic Act which established the NPS as a bureau within the Department of the Interior. The language within this legislation helped to define the authority and mission of the NPS.

The NPS operates under many laws, some of which are specific to the NPS, and other laws such as the Clean Air Act or Endangered Species Act which are applied to other agencies beyond the NPS.

In addition to laws, federal agencies operate under federal regulations, bureau policies and other guidance such as Director's Orders. This website provides information regarding laws, regulations and policies relevant to the management and protection of National Park Service paleontological resources.


  • Law
  • Regulations
  • Policies
  • PRPA Rulemaking

Law

The NPS's authority to conserve and manage resources in parks is derived from the NPS Organic Act of 1916 (16 U.S.C. § 1), which states that "the fundamental purpose of the said parks...is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

The General Authorities Act of 1970 and its 1978 revision (16 U.S.C. § 1a-1 et seq.) clarifies the authorities applicable to the National Park Service system.

Section 207 of the National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998 authorizes the NPS to withhold information from the public in response to a FOIA request concerning the nature and specific location of threatened, endangered, rare, or commercially valuable objects, or objects of cultural patrimony located in units of the National Park System, unless the Secretary determines that the release of such information would not harm the objects. This exemption helps protect commercially valuable objects such as minerals, fossils, and other valuable items and also exempts information that could reveal "the nature and specific location" of caves and objects within caves. This information includes, but is not limited to, survey data, surface and subsurface maps and names of geographic features.

Cultural resources associated with paleontology are generally within the scope of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA) (16 U.S.C. § 470 et seq.), the Archeological Resources Protection Act of 1974 (ARPA) (16 U.S.C. § 470aa et seq. ) and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) (25 U.S.C. § 3001 et seq.).

Paleontological resources are protected by the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act (PRPA) (PL 111-11) that was part of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009.

Regulations

The NPS governs activities in paleontological parks through the general NPS regulations, found at 36 Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) Chapter I. These regulations apply to federally-owned lands and waters administered by the NPS within park boundaries and also to some nonfederal lands and waters within park boundaries (36 C.F.R § 1.2). The regulations directly related to paleontology questions in parks include:

§2.1 Preservation of natural, cultural and archeological resources.

  • (a) Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, the following is prohibited:
    • (1) Possessing, destroying, injuring, defacing, removing, digging, or disturbing from its natural state:
      • (iii) Nonfossilized and fossilized paleontological specimens, cultural or archeological resources, or the parts thereof.
      • (iv) A mineral resource or cave formation or the parts thereof.
§2.5 Research Specimens
  • (a) Taking plants, fish, wildlife, rocks or minerals except in accordance with other rgulations of this chapter or pursuant to the terms and conditions of a specimen collection permit, is prohibited.
  • (b) A specimen collection permit may be issued only to an official representative of a reputable scientific or educational institution or State or Federal agency for the purpose of research, baseline inventories, monitoring, impact analysis, group study, or museum display when the superintendent determines that the collection is necessary to the stated scientific or resource management goals of the institution or agency and that all applicable Federal and State permits have been acquired, and that the intended use of the specimens and their final disposal is in accordance with applicable law and Federal administrative policies. A permit shall not be issued if removal of the specimen would result in damage to other natural or cultural resources, affect adversely environmental or scenic views, or if the specimen is readily available outside of the park area.
  • (g) Specimen collection permits shall contain the following conditions:
    • (1) Specimens placed in displays or collections will bear official National Park Service museum labels and their catalog numbers will be registered in the National Park Service National Catalog.
    • (2) Specimens and data derived from consummed specimens will be made available to the public and reports and publications resulting from a research specimen collection permit shall be filed with the superintendent.
  • (h) Violation of the terms and conditions of a permit issued in accordance with this section is prohibited and may result in the suspension or revocation of a permit.

Policies

Additionally, the NPS manages paleontology parks as directed by the NPS Management Policies (2006) (PDF - 2.5MB). The policies directly related to paleontology questions in parks include:

Section 1.9.2.3 Information Confidentiality "Although it is the general NPS policy to share information widely, the Service also realizes that providing information about the location of park resources may sometimes place those resources at risk of harm, theft, or destruction..."

Section 4.8.2.1 Paleontological Resources and Their Contexts Paleontological resources, including both organic and mineralized remains in body or trace form, will be protected, preserved, and managed for public education, interpretation, and scientific research. The Service will study and manage paleontological resources in their paleoecological context (that is, in terms of the geologic data associated with a particular fossil that provides information about the ancient environment).

Superintendents will establish programs to inventory paleontological resources and systematically monitor for newly exposed fossils, especially in areas of rapid erosion. Scientifically significant resources will be protected by collection or by on-site protection and stabilization. The Service will encourage and help the academic community to conduct paleontological field research in accordance with the terms of a scientific research and collecting permit. Fossil localities and associated geologic data will be adequately documented when specimens are collected. Paleontological resources found in an archeological context are also subject to the policies for archeological resources. Paleontological specimens that are to be retained permanently are subject to the policies for museum objects.

The Service will take appropriate action to prevent damage to and unauthorized collection of fossils. To protect paleontological resources from harm, theft, or destruction, the Service will ensure, where necessary, that information about the nature and specific location of these resources remains confidential, in accordance with the National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998.

Parks will exchange fossil specimens only with other museums and public institutions that are dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of natural heritage and qualified to manage museum collections. Fossils to be deaccessioned in an exchange must fall outside the park’s scope of collection statement. Systematically collected fossils in an NPS museum collection in compliance with 36 CFR 2.5 cannot be outside the scope of collection statement. Exchanges must follow deaccession procedures in the Museum Handbook, Part II, chapter 6.

The sale of original paleontological specimens is prohibited in parks. The Service generally will avoid purchasing fossil specimens. Casts or replicas should be acquired instead. A park may purchase fossil specimens for the park museum collection only after making a written determination that:

  • the specimens are scientifically significant and accompanied by detailed locality data and pertinent contextual data;
  • the specimens were legally removed from their state of origin, and all transfers of ownership have been legal;
  • the preparation of the specimens meets professional standards;
  • the alternatives for making these specimens available to science and the public are unlikely; and
  • acquisition is consistent with the park's enabling legislation and scope of collection statement, and acquisition will ensure the specimens' availability in perpetuity for public education and scientific research.

All NPS construction projects in areas with potential paleontological resources must be preceded by a preconstruction surface assessment prior to disturbance. For any occurrences noted, or when the site may yield paleontological resources, the site will be avoided or the resources will, if necessary, be collected and properly cared for before construction begins. Areas with potential paleontological resources must also be monitored during construction projects.

Section 10.2.4.6 Artifacts and Specimens Concessioners will not be permitted to sell any merchandise in violation of laws, regulations, or NPS policies. The park superintendent may prohibit the sale of some items for retail sale because the merchandise is locally sensitive or inappropriate for sale. The sale of original objects, artifacts, or specimens of a historic, archeological, paleontological, or biological nature is prohibited. Replicated historic, archeological, paleontological, or biological objects, artifacts, or specimens may be sold if they are obvious replicas and clearly labeled. Any geological merchandise approved for sale or exhibit by concessioners must be accompanied by appropriate educational material and a written disclaimer clearly stating that such items were not obtained from inside park boundaries. The proposed sale of any replicas, or of geological merchandise, must be addressed in the gift shop merchandise plan.

PRPA Rulemaking

The Paleontological Resources Preservation Act (PRPA) was signed into law by President Obama on March 30, 2009 (Public Law 111-11, Title VI, Subtitle D). PRPA directs five federal land managing agencies, including the National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and U.S. Forest Service (USFS), to implement comprehensive paleontological resource management programs. Section 6310 of PRPA specifically states, "As soon as practical after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall issue such regulations as are appropriate to carry out this subtitle, providing opportunities for public notice and comment."

The U.S. Forest Service published the Department of Agriculture (USDA) PRPA regulations in the Federal Register in May 2013 and public comments were accepted through July 2013. The NPS, BLM, BOR, and FWS are currently developing the draft Department of Interior (DOI) PRPA regulations. DOI will also seek public comment in the future when the proposed regulations are posted in the Federal Register.


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Last Updated: February 26, 2014