Pick up a rock on federal land, go to jail

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WASHINGTON – A land management bill that swept through the U.S. Senate last month and is headed for a House vote this week punishes rock collectors and paleontologists with arrest and expropriation of their cars and other equipment for even unknowingly disturbing fossils on public land, say critics.

In the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, a "forfeiture" provision would let the government confiscate "all vehicles and equipment of any person" who digs up or removes a rock or a bone from federal land that meets the bill's broad definition of "paleontological resource," says a report by Jon Berlau of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

"The seizures could take place even before a person and even if the person didn't know they were taking or digging up a 'paleontological resource," writes Berlau. "And the bill specifically allows the 'transfer of seized resources' to 'federal or non-federal' institutions, giving the government and some private actors great incentive to egg on the takings."

Tracie Bennitt, president of the Association of Applied Paleontological Sciences, is protesting the bill's vague language and severe penalties.

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I go backcountry hiking a couple times a year. While on the trails, I always find an interesting small rock to take home to my young son.

Will they take my car? Is my tent at risk? Yikes

Section 6304.2 states: CASUAL COLLECTING EXCEPTION- The Secretary may allow casual collecting without a permit on Federal land controlled or administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Forest Service, where such collection is consistent with the laws governing the management of those Federal land and this subtitle

Casual collecting is defined in the bill as: the collecting of a reasonable amount of common invertebrate and plant paleontological resources for non-commercial personal use, either by surface collection or the use of non-powered hand tools resulting in only negligible disturbance to the Earth’s surface and other resources. As used in this paragraph, the terms ‘reasonable amount’, ‘common invertebrate and plant paleontological resources’ and ‘negligible disturbance’ shall be determined by the Secretary.

Stop being scared by your news and inform yourself.

There's a city full of walls you can post complaints at

My son was going to get his rock from my trip in April to the Great Smoky Mountains regardless of the law. He thinks the quartz are pretty cool.

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