2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 188-9
Presentation Time: 10:30 AM


DATTILO, Benjamin, Department of Geosciences, Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne, 2101 E. Coliseum Blvd, Fort Wayne, IN 46805-1499, BRETT, Carlton E., Department of Geology, Univ of Cincinnati, 500 Geology/Physics Bldg, Cincinnati, OH 45221-0013, MEYER, David L., Dept of Geology, Univ of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH 45221, FREEMAN, Rebecca L., Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506, HUNDA, Brenda R., Collections and Research, Cincinnati Museum Center, 1301 Western Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45203, HOLLAND, Steven M., Department of Geology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-2501, STIGALL, Alycia L., Department of Geological Sciences and Ohio Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Studies, Ohio University, 316 Clippinger Lab, Athens, OH 45701, DELINE, Bradley, Department of Geosciences, University of West Georgia, 1601 Maple St, Carrollton, GA 30118, SUMRALL, Colin D., Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of Tennessee, 306 EPS Building, 1412 Circle Drive, Knoxville, TN 37996-1410 and WILSON, Mark A., Dept of Geology, College of Wooster, 944 College Mall, Scovel Hall, Wooster, OH 44691-2363, dattilob@ipfw.edu

Regulations promulgated by the United States Forest Service restricting avocational, commercial, and academic collection of invertebrate fossils have stunned the fossil collector community. These regulations are partly a reaction to the tragedy of commercial trade, at immense prices, of rare vertebrates. However, it is a mistake to attribute this supply-demand imbalance to all fossils. As the mutual beneficiaries of a stable collaborative relationship between collectors and academics in the Cincinnati region, we assert that emphasis on “protecting fossil resources” is misguided.

Rarity explains ethical contrasts between vertebrate paleontology and invertebrate paleontology. All fossil collecting removes sources of potential information, so vertebrate paleontologists generally oppose avocational collecting and commercial fossil trade, and this view has shaped policy. Invertebrate paleontologists require relatively small samples and often work with common taxa. Academic invertebrate paleontologists routinely depend on avocational collectors and generally do not object to commercial trade. No information comes from an undiscovered fossil.

Most scientifically valuable invertebrate fossils have little or no commercial value, and those that do are often not as rare as perceived, and are not marketable without the added value of the collector’s labor, which is compensated by sale. Furthermore, the process of excavating these fossils results in the discovery of other fossils that are truly rare or exceptionally preserved. Lacking adequate funding for excavation, free access to these finds is invaluable to the academic paleontologist. Many scientifically significant discoveries from the Late Ordovician rocks of the Cincinnati area would not have occurred without the direct involvement of amateur and “commercial” collectors.

The new regulations greatly increase costs and restrict the kinds of research that invertebrate paleontologists can conduct on public lands. They also result in legal obscenities, like allowing large quantities of fossil-bearing rock to be processed into concrete or other stone products, while prosecuting a collector for taking a few hundred specimens from the same rocks. The real tragedy may be the end of collaborations where draconian laws are in force.