Paleontology—Legal Instruments

The NPS Geologic Resources Division developed this article as part of a series to summarize laws, regulations, and policies that specifically apply to NPS minerals and geologic resources. The table below does not include laws of general application (e.g., Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, Wilderness Act, National Environmental Policy Act, or National Historic Preservation Act). Also, the table does include the NPS Organic Act when it serves as the main authority for protection of a particular resource or when other, more specific laws are not available. Information is current as of December 2023. Contact the NPS Geologic Resources Division for detailed guidance.


Resource-specific Laws

Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, 16 USC §§ 470aa – mm Section 3 (1)

Archaeological Resource—nonfossilized and fossilized paleontological specimens, or any portion or piece thereof, shall not be considered archaeological resources, under the regulations of this paragraph, unless found in an archaeological context. Therefore, fossils in an archaeological context are covered under this law.

Federal Cave Resources Protection Act of 1988, 16 USC §§ 4301 – 4309 Section 3 (5) Cave Resource

Cave Resource—the term “cave resource” includes any material or substance occurring naturally in caves on Federal lands, such as animal life, plant life, paleontological deposits, sediments, minerals, speleogens, and speleothems. Therefore, every reference to cave resource in the law applies to paleontological resources.

National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998, 54 USC § 100701

protects the confidentiality of the nature and specific location of paleontological resources and objects.

Paleontological Resources Preservation Act of 2009, 16 USC § 470aaa et seq.

provides for the management and protection of paleontological resources on federal lands.

Resource-specific Regulations

36 CFR § 2.1(a)(1)(iii)

prohibits destroying, injuring, defacing, removing, digging or disturbing paleontological specimens or parts thereof.

Prohibition in 36 CFR § 13.35

applies even in Alaska parks, where the surface collection of other geologic resources is permitted.

43 CFR Part 49 (in development)

will contain the DOI regulations implementing the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act.

2006 Management Policies

Section 4.8.2

requires NPS to protect geologic features from adverse effects of human activity.


emphasizes Inventory and Monitoring, encourages scientific research, directs parks to maintain confidentiality of paleontological information, and allows parks to buy fossils only in accordance with certain criteria.

Related Links

Part of a series of articles titled Geology & Minerals—Resource Laws, Regulations, and Policies.

Last updated: January 2, 2024