Paleontological Resource Protection

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The protection of non-renewable paleontological resources is an important responsibility in NPS areas, supported by various federal laws, regulations and policies. Unauthorized collecting of fossils and other paleontological resource crimes (theft and vandalism) are prohibited by law and subject to criminal and civil penalties. There are several best practices that are employed by the NPS Paleontology Program to assist parks with the protection of NPS fossils. These include park staff training, technical assistance, non-disclosure (confidentiality) of sensitive resource information, development and use of resource stewardship and protection messaging in interpretation and education programming and media, and other activities and practices.

The NPS Paleontology Program provides paleontological resource protection training for NPS staff, especially Law Enforcement Rangers (during the annual 40-hour law enforcement refresher training), to increase understanding of resource-specific practices and considerations related to the prevention and investigation of fossil crimes (theft and vandalism). Parks may also request training for staff.

Technical assistance may involve a specific at-risk locality or a broader assessment. In the latter case, depending on the situation it may be appropriate to initiate a monitoring system or an inventory.

The non-disclosure and protection of sensitive paleontological resource information, especially the location of fossil sites, is an important part of managing fossils in national parks. The confidentiality of paleontological resource information is addressed in several federal laws including the Paleontological Resource Preservation Act of 2009 (Section 6309) and the National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998 (Section 207).

Resource stewardship and protection messaging is an important component of public interactions. For example, websites and press releases produced in cooperation with the NPS Paleontology Program include disclaimers about the non-renewable nature of fossil resources and what visitors should do if they encounter fossils in a park.

Last updated: November 5, 2020


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