-->

Δευτέρα, 24 Ιουλίου 2017

Legal Aspects of Rock, Mineral, and Fossil Collecting

This looks like one of the world's most innocent activities, but if the rocks are removed from certain types of property it could be a violation of regulation, law, or personal property rights. The most severe consquence will likely be a warning, but, one never knows what can happen. Image © iStockphoto /emholk.
By Timothy J. Witt, J.D.

Much more valuable than a common pebble - if you are caught removing this without permission from almost any property that you do not own, and in some cases even a property that you do own, it could result in criminal or civil problems. Image © iStockphoto / Luftklick.
While fishing in a mountain stream, you find a small gold nugget. Is it yours to keep? Imagine digging in your backyard to install a new deck and unearthing several fossils. Do you own them? As you hike with your family in a national park on vacation, your children happen upon several small pieces of petrified wood. Are your children able to take them home? Picture yourself strolling on a long, sandy beach when your spouse’s attention is caught by several beautiful stones gleaming under the shallow water. Can your spouse wade into the water to retrieve the stones and take them home as a souvenir? You and some friends are having a great day rock-climbing in a nearby state park when your activities reveal several interesting crystalline minerals. Is it legal for you to put them in your pack to show your non-climbing friends? In keeping these specimens, would the individuals have done something wrong?

On most Bureau of Land Management
and United States Forest Service lands,
  the collection of vertebrate fossil rocks
 is prohibited and criminalized.
 National Park Service photo.
These questions evoke fairly common and seemingly innocuous scenarios. Nonetheless, the question of legality underscores the legal framework in which such simple activities take place. Would someone be doing something illegal in keeping one of the found specimens? Quite possibly.

Depending on a host of factors including the exact type, weight, and location of the specimens taken, someone may have subjected himself or herself to criminal and civil legal actions. Not following applicable laws when rock, mineral, and fossil collecting can result in serious consequences.

Signs like this on private property indicate that the property owner does NOT want people collecting agates on their land. There may be various reasons for this: They want to avoid potential liability, they simply don't want people on their land, they want the agates for their own personal use, or the agates are valuable. Believe it or not, some agates sell for a lot of money.
Regardless of whether specimen collecting is referred to as rock hunting, rockhounding, or amateur geology, the legal issues associated with collecting remain the same.

One of those issues cuts straight to the heart of the activity: is it legal? As with many legal questions, the answer is “it depends.” And it really does just depend. The legalities of rock, mineral, and fossil collecting are multi-faceted and fact-specific. Questions about the legality of specimen collecting sit at the intersections of multiple areas of law, including real estate law, environmental law, mining law, and public law in both civil and criminal contexts. As a result, there are few easy answers, and many answers will be nuanced answers that are heavily-reliant on the particulars of individual instances of collecting. Without being trite, determining whether specimen collecting is legal or illegal in any given situation is a veritable “who-what-where-when-why-how” exercise.
The world's most famous locality for amazonite and smoky quartz is in Colorado. There are thousands of other mineral collecting and commercial production sites within the state. In 2015 there were over 10,000 active mining claims in Colorado.

The purpose of this article is to explain many of the legal principles related to rock, mineral, and fossil collecting so as to enable specimen collectors to better evaluate the legality of their activities.

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Determining Rock, Mineral, or Fossil Ownership and Possession
Part 3: Additional Conditions, Limitations, and Prohibitions on Rock Collecting