We believe that the interests of science need to be considered first.
Unfortunately, science or academia has neither the manpower nor financial
resources to properly collect all of the things that are out there waiting
to be discovered. Were it not for the efforts of individuals from the
nonacademic community, significant amounts of scientific information
would never come to light.
We frequently talk to groups (scouts, clubs, schools and even university
classes) about our collecting. We always encourage people to be curious
and collect fossils. We never discourage this effort. We recommend that
they be law abiding and courteous. Always respect private property,
never litter, get permits when required, obey the laws, learn what the
regulations are, study the literature and learn what fossils are found
there and how to recognize them, always keep an eye open for unusual
things, keep records of when and where things are found, carefully protect
specimens from handling damage, and it is very important that you ask
Many years ago we discovered the satisfaction and benefits of donating
fossils to science. First we became familiar with a few Paleontologists
and learned what were their specialties. We took specimens to them to
identify. Occasionally we presented them with specimens that they could
not identify. They recommended names of other specialists who could
help us. We let them know that if the specimen was of scientific interest
that we would be willing to donate them. We were pleased to learn that
one of the specimens we donated was being named in our honor. Since
then, many other species have been named in our honor. The Paleontological
Society even honored us by presenting us with the first Strimple Award,
which honors outstanding contributions to science by nonacademic persons.
We also discovered the financial benefits by taking tax deductions for
the retail value of the fossils.
Make no mistake, we are collectors and love to have an excellent collection.
Most of the things we find are not scientifically important so they
go into our collection. We always look for better specimens to improve
our personal collection. Inferior specimens can be moved from the collection
by many means. We give them to friends or put them in school kits we
donate and take a tax deduction, or trade with other collectors to acquire
new things for our collection.
We have no opposition in general to people who wish to sell fossils.
For the most part, we avoid the temptation to join this group. We feel
that there are many fossils that are common and unimportant and see
no reason to restrict the collecting and selling of such. We are often
disappointed to learn that commercial collectors are sometimes inconsiderate
and do unethical things. Sometimes they plow through overburden to get
to the most valuable and productive layers while discarding and spoiling
nice and sometimes scientifically important specimens. They destroy
collecting spots for others by extensive digging for days, depriving
amateurs of opportunity to collect on public lands. They have sometimes
sold rare and very important specimens rather than share them with science.
Many collect illegally and falsify records to indicate where specimens
originated and important data is lost.
Many commercial collectors loose focus that they are collecting on public
land, which should be free for all to enjoy, while they stake their
claim and run off intruders. Some acquire leases or permits and then
abuse them by failing to report significant finds and greatly undervalue
the things they report in order to increase their profits. It is also
unfortunate that the government lacks the resources to either enforce
its regulations or give incentives for those who keep the laws. It is
also unfortunate that the present laws are too broad and do not meet
the needs of science, commercial collectors or amateurs. For example,
public officials tend to neglect commercial collectors on public lands
that find a Cambrian invertebrate fossils such as a very rare Anomalocaris
and sell it for tens of thousands of dollars to be placed in a personal
collection. But they pay a great amount of attention to the illegal
collecting of one common Green River fish fossil of which there are
literally billions because they are vertebrate.
We encourage our legislators to consider all
interested parties when considering the writing of laws regarding collecting
on public lands. The laws should encourage the use of the lands by all,
they should give incentive to those collecting that science might be
the beneficiary of the laws and disincentives for those who ignore them.
Most of all, we encourage all people to take an interest, become educated
and knowledgeable about the importance of fossils and to take care of
this precious resource.