Press Release Sep 1, 2022

We Dig It: Parks Group Welcomes Fossil Protections on Public Lands

New rule strengthens protections for important paleontological sites across the United States

Washington, DC – Federal public lands with significant paleontological resources are now better protected after a new federal rule went into effect today designed to protect fossils managed by the bureaus under the Department of the Interior.

The new rule, which is over 20 years in the making, strengthens protections found in existing environmental regulations and warns of the criminal and civil penalties for the illegal collection of fossils.

More than 280 national park sites are known to contain paleontological resources that span nearly 2 billion years of geologic history. Additionally, the impacts of climate change are leading to more fossils being discovered as glaciers melt, coastlines erode and rivers and lakes dry up, revealing new discoveries.

“Fossils are irreplaceable and have taught us so much about the pre-history of our country and our planet, so these stronger protections are welcome and long-overdue,” said Christa Cherava, Senior Manager of Conservation Programs at the National Parks Conservation Association. “Our national parks and public lands are rich in fossils and other resources and today’s rule will advance scientific discoveries and the incredible educational values they hold.

“Fossils are also an important part of Indigenous cultures and strengthening protections will ensure important cultural resources are respected and preserved.”

National parks have been the center of numerous important paleontological discoveries that have expanded our knowledge.

Fossilized footprints found in White Sands National Park in New Mexico revealed that humans had been living in North America for at least 10,000 years longer than first thought.

Tule Springs Fossil Bed National Monument in Nevada was established in 2014 to protect the area’s paleontological discoveries that dated back to the Ice Age. This location was also the first place to deploy the carbon-dating method in the field, decades earlier.

A year later, Waco Mammoth National Monument in Texas was established to protect a similar site that was home to the fossils of 24 Columbian mammoths.

While new designations and expansions for the intentional protection of fossils are essential, many new paleontological finds are appearing in existing park units that had been originally established for entirely different reasons. This ruling also mandates park managers to conduct inventory and monitoring activities so that they can gain a better understanding of what is exactly present. A thorough account of these resources can lead to better planning and addressing needs to carry out their full safeguarding.

“While protecting these important fossils on federal land is important, it now needs to be complemented with the right expertise and funding to ensure that these discoveries are looked after properly,” Cherava added. “Our national parks have been historically under-funded and under-staffed in all areas, including only 20 paleontologists to discover and protect fossils and other resources across the country. Expanding the amount of available expertise is essential for the success of this regulation.”

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About The National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.6 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.

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