Recently, four people were charged with finding dinosaur bones on public lands and selling those bones to China. They were charged with 13 felonies by the Department of Justice for destroying and damaging the fossils as well as loss of scientific discoveries.

They had carved up many of the fossils to make art and jewelry. 

Most people would never do such a thing, but what are the rules about finding fossils on public lands? Utah is a great place to find fossils, even if you aren’t really looking. There are specific rules about what you find. This is from the Utah Geological Survey. 

There are different kinds of fossils and it makes a difference what you can do with them. 

Vertebrate Fossils: These are fossils that have a backbone. This could be anything from a bone from a dinosaur or a mammoth, even turtles. It would also include a footprint from one of these animals or a mark where their tail drug.  

Photo by Marcus Lange:
Photo by Marcus Lange:

These fossils cannot be collected on any Federal or State lands. If you find one, report it. You can do that here or a the agency that manages the land. 

Invertebrate Fossils: These are snails, corals and shells. All animals that don’t have a backbone. These can be kept if you are not trying to sell it and you should collect too many. 

Photo by Anthony Cantin on Unsplash
Photo by Anthony Cantin on Unsplash

Plant Fossils: These are fossilized plants or the impression of a leaf and includes petrified wood. You can also keep these if you aren’t using them for commercial use.  

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash
Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

Even if you think you can keep a fossil, it doesn’t hurt to check. Here are the rules from the Utah Geological Survey site:  

Some general fossil collecting rules in Utah 

  • Vertebrate fossils may not be collected on any federal or state lands except under permits issued to accredited institutions. 
  • Invertebrate and plant fossils may be collected (in reasonable amounts if collection is for personal, non-commercial purposes) on BLM, USFS, and state-administered Trust Lands with the following conditions: 
  • Some BLM lands may be closed to collecting for various reasons. Inquire at the appropriate local BLM office. 
  • Collecting permits are required on USFS lands and may vary per district. Contact the applicable USFS district. 
  • Collecting on state-administered Trust Lands requires a permit and payment of an annual fee. Permits may be obtained at Trust Lands offices. 
  • Permission is required to collect on private lands. Always check with the landowner before removing any fossils. 
  • Private landowners have the right to keep any fossils found on their property. They are urged to report any fossil finds to the UGS. 

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Keep scrolling for 50 vintage photos that show the beauty of America's national parks.

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