Thursday, September 18, 2008

More Fossil Theft

Sadly, there are two more stories on fossil theft in the news (not alleged theft either, straight out stealing). First, vertebrate fossils from a rich site in the Morrison Formation near Hanksville, Utah (the Hanksville-Burpee Quarry) have become the target of fossil thieves [link]. This is a really sad event, given the great work the Burpee Museum crew had been doing out there. The site was well publicized this summer (see these other links as well; it even has its own Wikipedia entry!), and that could possibly have given the bad guys the tip as to where to look. It is freaking sad that you would even have to worry about it in the first place. They obviously were being sneaky, to steal fossils and leave the jackets there. They probably figured no one would look till the Burpee returned and then it would be way to late. What good are they going to do in someones house or in some rock shop being sold to tourist?! John and I visited this site earlier this summer and they had some great stuff going on out there. I would totally publish the pictures on here and had intended to, but know I wonder if I would only be giving those with bad intentions another picture to help them find there way there. These are OUR public resources they are stealing, and it really makes me upset. Is there no respect for what researchers are trying to do there? Anywhere? You should be mad about this. We all should! If you see someone collection vertebrate fossils from public lands (BLM, forest service or national park service) please report it! It is up to us to help stop theft and help to keep an eye on the resources that belong to the public!

Second, pieces of a large fossilized conifer were stolen from public land near St. George, Utah. This tree had ~25 feet of its length preserved and the thieves went to great lengths to procure it. Luckily it was recovered and is now on display at the Dinosaur Discovery Site in St. George (read more of the story here)! The reason this was an issue, since collecting a reasonable amount of plant fossils is allowed on public land, is that these fossils were collected for commercial purposes, as outlined in the news story (and as far as I can tell). Fossils for commercial purposes are not allowed without a special permit (see below). From the "Hobby collecting in Utah" webpage: "You may collect common invertebrate and plant fossils for NONCOMMERCIAL purposes only. A reasonable amount is what you may keep for a personal hobby collection or display in your home. Collecting common invertebrate or plant fossils for landscaping (even if it's just around your house) is not a hobby activity and must be done as a mineral materials sale....If you wish to collect common invertebrate or plant fossils for landscaping, sale, or commercial purposes you must apply to the BLM for a mineral materials sale. (43CFR3602)" We can only hope that the bones stolen from the Hanksville-Burpee Quarry will be found as well.

These fossils were stolen from Bureau of Land Management land, and collecting vertebrate fossils without a permit is illegal. There are laws protecting fossils and they provide a variety of penalties if not collected with a permit. Some fines are smaller, with the the maximum fine being $250,000 and/or up to 10 years in jail (according to the AK BLM web page here).

Please see the Utah Paleontology website for more great information on fossils in Utah. The Hobby Collecting in Utah webpage can give you all the facts on fossils that are alowed to be collected in that state.

For more on fossil theft on BLM lands, see this webpage.


Silver Fox said...

Sad to hear about this sort of thing. Some sites don't publicize so much. Maybe some kind of watchman-type arrangement is needed on particularly good or accessible sites - built into the funding if possible.

Anonymous said...

Should I be mad? Little museum makes a tremendous discovery that shows potential to better our understanding of the Jurassic world and shortly after looters swoop in like vultures? You bet I'm mad!

silver fox: That may be the only way. I saw a picture of one of the Liaoning Quarries (the ones that yield all those feathered dinosaur fossils) in a national geographic, right there on the edge was a watchmen. Unfortunately, the site has now been discovered, so it's going to take effort to keep it safe. Not to mention hopefully finding the culprits.