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NAS fossil report: lacking a backbone?

NAS fossil report: Lacking backbone?

Protection of fossil resources on U.S. public lands is eroding, according to the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. A poll of the group's 900-plus U.S. and Canadian members and a vote at its annual meeting last week in Drumheller, Alberta, express the concerns that a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report could threaten the safety of untapped fossil sites and allow the commercialization of rare fossils.

Although they support many parts of the academy report, members take issue with several important elements, says society President Michael Woodburne of the University of California, Riverside. The 1987 document represents the work of a 13-person panel, which included vertebrate and invertebrate paleontologists, a paleobotanist, lawyers and businessmen.

Vertebrate paleontologists are particularly upset by panel recommendation #5, stating that "commercial collecting of fossils from public lands should be regulated to minimize the risk of losing fossils and data of importance to paleontology" -- a statement the society says tacitly condones commercial fossil collection and sale. Woodburne says the society wants the federal government to expressly prohibit commercial collecting on public lands. Such collecting drives up fossil prices and encourages entrepreneurs to sell specimens to the highest bidder, sometimes someone seeking home decorations, Woodburne says.

"When things are commercialized, unique specimens that should rightfully end up in a museum, perhaps do not end up in a museum. They can end up in a personal collection or in another country," says Bruce J. MacFadden, past president of the society. The NAS recommendations do not recognize the rarity of vertebrate fossils as compared with invertebrate fossils, which tend to be much more numerous, he adds. For some species of dinosaur or long-extinct fish, only one specimen is known.

John Pojeta Jr., an academy panel member and an invertebrate paleontologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Va., says the report attempts to accommodate the needs of many groups and that commercial collectors often provide fossils for schools and museums.

He points out that the panel suggested that any important specimen found by commercial collectors should be placed in a public institution. "Recommendation #5 is a strong endorsement of the policy 'science comes first,'" Pojeta says.
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Title Annotation:National Academy of Sciences
Author:Monastersky, Richard
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 22, 1988
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