Joint 52nd Northeastern Annual Section / 51st North-Central Annual Section Meeting - 2017

Paper No. 3-8
Presentation Time: 10:45 AM


MCCALL, Linda J., University of Texas, Austin, 10100 Burnet Rd, Austin, TX 78758,

At its heart, the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act (PRPA) is designed to protect scientifically important paleontological resources (fossils and sites) on public lands. It seeks to protect these resources from being damaged, destroyed, or removed from the public domain. Its goal is the preservation of these resources for the purpose of being collected, studied, curated, and preserved using scientific principles and expertise for the educational benefit of all mankind, adding to the collective body of knowledge about our planet. This is a worthy cause and should be universally supported; however, a serious disconnect becomes evident when non-professional paleontologists (avocational citizen scientist fossil collectors) are thrown into the mix.

PRPA, as currently interpreted by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, assumes only professional paleontologists are capable of using scientific principles and expertise for studying, curating, and publishing scientifically important paleontological specimens. However, research in 2015 showed that, in 15 of the 60+ amateur/avocational groups and societies spread across the United States, 51 individuals were published in peer-reviewed journals (many of them published multiple times). Extrapolated out, this equates to hundreds of scientifically valuable papers being authored and co-authored by non-professionals. This scenario raises an important question: Given the current interpretation of PRPA, would these papers, and the scientific knowledge gained by them, have been possible if the specimens were found on federal lands?

In this case study example, we will examine three technical papers as well as three current projects authored and co-authored by a member of the peer-reviewed published non-professional community to see if any of it would be possible under the PRPA. Spoiler alert: the answer is no, which means the PRPA effectively disenfranchises an entire subset of non-professional paleontologists. This will result in a negative impact on the numbers of scientific papers being published and, therefore, a negative impact on the depth of scientific knowledge gained about the history of life on Earth.

  • NE-NC GSAshort.pdf (11.6 MB)