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NORTH DAKOTA'S FOSSIL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT PROGRAM AND THE PRIVATE LANDOWNER

HOGANSON, John W., North Dakota Geological Survey, 600 E. Blvd., Bismarck, ND 58505
   

The North Dakota Geological Survey (NDGS) Fossil Resource Management Program for the State of North Dakota was inaugurated in 1983 primarily in response to concerns about the historic and ongoing removal of fossils from the state. The program now includes three primary objectives: 1) to promote public understanding and awareness of the importance of North Dakota's fossil resources through educational activities, 2) to conduct research to determine the types of organisms that inhabited North Dakota at various times in the geologic past and the types and climates and environments in which they lived, and 3) to identify and preserve North Dakota's significant fossil sites and specimens.

There are three categories of fossil-bearing lands in North Dakota: 1) lands administered by agencies of the federal government, 2) lands administered by the state of North Dakota, and 3) privately owned lands. The NDGS takes an active role in managing paleontological resources on each of these. The NDGS has signed agreements with the U.S. Forest Service--Custer National Forest (1986), federal Bureau of Land Management (1988), and the U.S. Corps of Engineers (1991) to cooperatively identify, manage, and protect paleontological resources found on lands in North Dakota under their jurisdiction.

The responsibility to manage and protect significant paleontological resources located on land owned by the state of North Dakota or its political subdivisions was given by legislative action in 1989 to the North Dakota Industrial Commission acting through the State Geologist. The NDGS was given the responsibility to formulate rules that would assure that the collecting of fossils from these lands would be conducted under conditions that adequately protect and preserve the public lands and fossil resources. Under this law a permit is required to collect significant paleontological resources from these lands. Generally, only vertebrate fossils are considered significant paleontological resources although invertebrate, plant and trace fossils can be considered significant if determined to be so. Commercial collecting of fossils on these lands is prohibited.

The state of North Dakota has no jurisdiction over paleontological resources found on privately owned land. Collecting fossils from private land is, therefore, at the discretion of the landowner. The NDGS does inform landowners of significant fossil resources on their land, and encourages them to protect those sites. The best form of protection for privately owned sites is through North Dakota's Natural Areas Registry Program. The program encourages the preservation of important privately owned natural areas and is designed to recognize owners of natural areas for their commitment to preserve North Dakota's natural heritage. The Registry is a totally voluntary, non-binding, citizen-based conservation program administered by the North Dakota Parks and Tourism Department, the Nature Conservancy and the NDGS when fossil sites are involved. Most of the 41 sites in North Dakota are biologically important natural areas, but 3 are registered because they are significant fossil sites.

The most pressing problem that is beginning to emerge in North Dakota and other western states has to do with the tremendous increase in value of fossils, especially dinosaur remains. Private landowners are now being required to make difficult decisions regarding disposition of fossils found on their land. Should they sell them to one of the numerous commercial fossil dealers or donate them to a museum or university? Museums and universities in North Dakota can not compete financially with the dealers. Economic incentives, such as tax credits, must be provided to landowners to prevent loss of our fossil resources to European and Asian markets.

   
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Updated: 08.11.06