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How's your provenance?

Posted by Rob Woodside  
avatar Re: How's your provenance?
July 17, 2012 01:37AM
I find this whole concern about plundered specimens ludicrous. Unless it is something that is being mined of high value such as say diamonds, emeralds or gold then it is really all about sour grapes. The companies that complain will quite happily put the specimens through the crusher and that is fine, but as soon as someone finds something of value beyond what comes out of the crusher, they are all upset about it. These companies should just be happy that something is being preserved of the heritage of the country and quite possibly of scientific value, the price it fetches on the open market is irrelevant. It reminds me of the law in Canada which requires special permission to export any specimen over $10,000 in value, that is unless you crush it first.
Re: How's your provenance?
July 17, 2012 02:15AM
reminds me of the law in Canada which requires special permission to export any specimen over $10,000 in value, that is unless you crush it first.

Reiner, that has long been one of my pet peeves too. And it isn't only Canada: In most of South America, the export of any fossils is prohibited; they are considered "national patrimony". If I pay some poor destitute Indians to collect brachiopods from a limestone quarry and mail them abroad, I've broken the law. If the cement company grinds thousands of them to powder, no law has been broken. Ditto for sharks teeth from a phosphate quarry. IMHO, anyone who breaks such laws by rescuing things from the crushers should be proud of themselves.
Re: How's your provenance?
July 17, 2012 03:29AM
I could write a long book about this subject.

The only place one can legally and freely collect minerals is one's own mining claim, and then only when the USFS approves your Plan of Operations.

There is an exception to that rule. If you make a royalty agreement with the mine or property owner. I have done that successfully a few times because I pay every penny I promised.

The Sawtooth Wilderness Area allowed a collector to remove about 3 pounds of smoky quartz. Some ranger districts don't care depending upon who the head ranger is. That info is about 15 years old, so don't depend upon my word.

I still collect from road cuts on National Forest lands, but I think that is highly frowned upon, I am "on the move" and don't leave any rocks on the road so I justify that activity as causing no harm and removing the loose rock as a public service.

There is no collecting on Washington Department of Natural Resources lands unless a mineral club has a lease on a particular locality.

Those leases are no longer being offered as far as I know.

At one time, not too long ago the WADNR allowed the removal of three mineral specimens from the Mount Si Natural Recreation Area. Don't know if it still holds. Some friends of mine were arrested for carrying down a pack load of Japan Law twinned quartz from the celebrated northern Mt.Teneriffe breccia zone which is now within the Mount Si Natural Recreation area.

There are some BLM lands which have been designated as collecting areas. Mostly for petrified wood.

There is a good book on the subject. "Collecting the Natural World" by Donald Wolberg and Patsy Reinard.

It is about the legal requirements and personal liability of collecting plants, animals, rocks, minerals and fossils.

The publication date is 1997 so it is probably horribly dated. It does tell the fascinating (frustrating) story of Sue Henderson and Sue the T-Rex.

The field collecting part of our hobby is looking very grim.

Re: How's your provenance?
July 17, 2012 03:44AM

I'm not done.

There is a notion that removing a trivial amount of mineral specimens despoils the natural environment and diminishes the enjoyment of nature by the average visitor to our public lands.

This is utter nonsense, and would never be presented by a person who knows anything about a crystal pocket.

Of what value to society is a tightly packed, clay filled, more or less invisible jumble of junk and crystals to the public ?

Mineral collectors are heroes, bringing the beauty of nature to the general public. They hike in, hike out with a back wrenching pack, collect with care, clean, trim and display.

Without the mineral collector all that beauty would be unknown.

Re: How's your provenance?
July 17, 2012 07:06AM
Bart Cannon wrote: "The only place one can legally and freely collect minerals is one's own mining claim, and then only when the USFS approves your Plan of Operations. There is an exception to that rule. If you make a royalty agreement with the mine or property owner."

I think it all depends on what you mean by "collect". Just casually/recreationally collecting minerals can be done in lots of different places - including on some National Forest Service lands.

For example, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, National Forest Service, Huron-Manistee National Forests website:

Gold Panning

"Casual/Recreational gold panning is allowed on most National Forest System lands, as long as it is done by hand and does not involve undercutting stream banks. No permit is required for casual gold panning. The use of sluices and portable dredges is not considered casual. To operate sluices or portable dredges requires a prospecting permit from the Bureau of Land Management. Because the Eastern United States is not subject to the 1872 Mining Law a claim cannot be filed."

Rock-Hounding/Fossil Collecting

"In most areas "Rock hounding" does not require special permission or fee payment when done as recreation, and is consistent with local management objectives. To make sure special permission or fee payment is not necessary please contact the District office in the area you wish to "Rock hound" in."

- Forest visitors are welcome to pick up mineral specimens, rock samples, invertebrate fossil casts and molds, geodes, or other earth oddities, and to pan for gold using hand tools.
- Collecting can be done on National Forest System lands where minerals are owned by others, including areas under federal lease, as long as it does not materially interfere with the rights granted to the mineral permittee/lessee.

United States Department of Agriculture, National Forest Service, Huron-Manistee National Forests website.

FYI: The Huron-Manistee National Forests are two national forests (the Huron National Forest, established in 1909, and the Manistee National Forest, established in 1938) that were combined in 1945. They comprise 978,906 acres (3,960 km2) of public lands, including 5,786 acres (23 km2) of wetlands, extending across the northern lower peninsula of Michigan. The Huron-Manistee National Forests provide recreation opportunities for visitors, habitat for fish and wildlife, and resources for local industry. The headquarters for the forests is in Cadillac, Michigan.

Source: Wikipedia - Huron-Manistee National Forests -
Re: How's your provenance?
July 17, 2012 10:14AM

I don't think that the quotations you mention are universally agreed upon at the current time, but I hope they are.

As I mentioned, it often depends upon the whim of the head ranger.

If you ask the typical head ranger about permission to collect beforehand, you will get the cover my butt response.

And what I am providing is the cover my own butt response from my own collecting diaries from 1965 until 2012.

There are places in Washington State where the US Forest Service Rangers are afraid to get out of their trucks for fear of reprisal from the local claim holders. I consulted for some of them in the Liberty gold district. I suggested putting a bulldozer cut along a survey line, but cautioned that it would take a year to get the plan of operations approved. He laughed at me. He said I'll do it tomorrow.

Re: How's your provenance?
July 17, 2012 10:33AM
Sorry, sorry, sorry.

I'm still not done.

Back in 1963 it was common knowledge that the Clay Center limestone quarry was closed on Sundays and that collecting was either allowed or not patrolled for trespass.

So my dad would take me and my nine year old brother to the bottom of the quarry in his Buick. I can't imagine a more dangerous place to set some little kids free in. I was 13. I found some good stuff. We traveled from Detroit.

Things were fine for a year or two, then the crusher jammed. The crusher jaws were frozen by an Estwing rock hammer. Always a solid tool.

Doesn't take a forensic scientist to reconstruct the evidence nor a very smart risk manager to shut down mineral collecting on their property.

I think the same thing happened at Mont St. Hilaire a few years later with the same result for collectors.

Re: How's your provenance?
July 17, 2012 04:20PM
Alfredo, et al.,
It does feel good to save something from the certain destruction of the crusher - 'tis a shame that is not always legal. Having been though the SUE T.rex case and follow-up suits, I know that the laws can be enforced in various manners depending upon the discretion of 'enforcer'. Permission granted does not necessarily put one in the clear for specimens collected. These days collecting permission must be very explicit, and the person granting permission must be made aware if there is any possibility that anything collected might be sold. Permission must be sought from the correct person, also. That person must be the one with absolute authority to render decisions, otherwise, as in the SUE T.rex case bad things can happen. We sought permission from the landowner, unaware that this particular situation also required permission from the Secretary of the Interior.

During the following prosecution, we found that as a business we could not collect fossils from Forest Service land, even if we had no intention of selling them. As far as I know, the US government has not granted a commercial permit for fossil collecting from federal lands, outside of petrified wood which is handled as a separate commodity under the Petrified Wood Act. All commercial activity on US Federal lands requires a Special Use Permit of some type. A permit to commercially salvage fossils has just never been granted. As Alfredo mentioned, it is perfectly legal for mines to grind them up.

Mineral collecting rules on Federal lands seem to be somewhat protected under mining laws, but must wonder about collecting things which could not be claimed under mining law, such as quartz and agates, etc.

avatar Re: How's your provenance?
July 17, 2012 10:17PM
I will be going collecting in Southern Spain in October, and our guide told us that the locals are not particularly friendly to foreigners collecting there, because every year a huge influx of European collectors descend on the area and effectively plunder their local sites. His answer to this, , , is to engage them after collecting a new site , and show them the minerals he found, give them some and also show that you aren't taking truckloads and carloads, but rather a reasonable number of flats only, and this is most helpful . I used to involve the local quarry manager, and workers by showing them what I found in their location, and where it was found, and then giving them some specimens to say thank you. This forestalled any incidents like those described with the pyrite balls, The problem, as Rob has nailed it, is that most of the better minerals we get, come out of mines, that we ordinary folk cannot collect in! So, if this ruling of no illegally acquired minerals prevails, I foresee, a future where a lot of fine specimens will never make it onto the tables or into the displays in rooms of our collectors and dealers, or even at
museums, which is sad, since it is a time honored tradition, and one which has saved for posterity many many fine minerals, otherwise destined for the crusher.
Re: How's your provenance?
July 18, 2012 01:46AM

I've been in this game for a VERY long time.

I have yet to encounter a field collector who does not engage in some sort of commercial activity associated with what he drags home..

Could be direct sales or trading with dealers.

If there is a field collector who has never participated in commerce from his finds..... please introduce yourself !!!.

Re: How's your provenance?
July 18, 2012 05:29AM
so just so I get this straight...let's say I go to one of my secret collecting sites for Epidote crystals- which is on US Forest Service land. If I bring home some crystals with me that I dug up does that mean I am BREAKING THE LAW?!? Or, if I go to an abandoned mine and pick up a couple sprays of hedenbergite crystals and a piece of massive arsenopyrite, (which I did last weekend)- then I am guilty of a crime?!? Heck, I have seen those sprays of Hedenbergite crystals FROM THIS VERY SPOT for sale on the web for...well, a lot more than I would have thought they were worth, I would say.

It just seems like, as time goes on, laws get more and more absurd, to the point where it is beyond ridiculousness. Whatever happened to public lands for the public?
Re: How's your provenance?
July 18, 2012 11:41AM
MATT If you want to know more about this, read the saga of the Lincoln Co., New Mexico smoky quartz crystals and the trouble the collectors got themselves into. I don't remember the details, but it was an article in (I think) Rocks and Minerals some years ago. Maybe another reader of this blog remembers more and can fill you in. But YES, if you collect crystals from many public US Forest Service lands, you would be breaking the law and they will prosecute! CHEERS (I guess!!)........BOB
avatar Re: How's your provenance?
July 18, 2012 12:40PM
The NM smokies were probably from Wilderness land. Those areas have different rules than other BLM or FS lands (mineral entry doesn't apply by law). Abandoned mines might be on patented land or have active claims on them. You need to know the land status before collecting.
Re: How's your provenance?
July 18, 2012 04:39PM
RE: Sierra Blanco Smokies (Lincoln Co. Saga). The "Smoky Bear Claim" which produced those beautiful crystals was/is on National Forest land. It was NFS rangers who captured the guys (who, by the way, thought they had correctly filed a claim.....oops!) and confiscated many pounds of xls both from their backpacks and their truck. From the nearest place to park to the location is a three-hour hike UP for a young took Cookie & me four hours. I haven't read the magazine article but know the victims of this fiasco quite well and there is more to it than is generally known. To this day, no one knows what happened to those confiscated plates & singles........

Don S.
avatar Re: How's your provenance?
July 18, 2012 05:16PM
Maybe we should all become micromounters.
Re: How's your provenance?
July 18, 2012 06:10PM
Thanks all for your further info on the Smoky Bear New Mexico claim. For me, the point is that collecting on many lands both public and private can be fraught with problems. This was the original premise of this thread which was that 'the provenance of the specimen might matter".

Here are yet 2 other incidents which come to my memory. Collecting rocks, geodes, and fossils (along with all other plant and animal life) is forbidden by the Indiana DNR on the shorelines of Lake Monroe Reservoir. There is a local university acquaintance who studies microfossils, and as such goes thru bags of mud and fine gravel with his time on a university scanning electron microscope (SEM). Several years ago he had a plastic sandwich bag or two of lakeshore mud in his backpack. An Indiana DNR or conservation officer asked him to empty the bag(s) of mud back onto the lakeshore and not pick up any more! Parenthetically the law states that "recent artifacts" can be collected or picked up. These phrases are euphemisms for GARBAGE!

About 10 years ago a graduate student collected an invertebrate fossil on the lake shore that no one recognized. It was eventually sent off to an expert on unusual invertebrate fossils and the report made it into the periodical "Nature" about June of 2000. The student then made the mistake of showing all this to our local newspaper and it was prominently reported in the newspaper as something like "student collects rare fossil". Anyway, within a few weeks, Indiana conservation officers showed up at his door and made him donate the finding to either the Indiana State Museum or (I think) the Smithsonian where it is today. He faced prosecution of stealing state property if he resisted.

Moral of these stories is that "provenance does matter"

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 07/18/2012 06:20PM by BOB HARMAN.
Re: How's your provenance?
July 18, 2012 06:31PM
Truly the point of this entire thread is to point out that no matter where you collect, and whatever you collect (rock, mineral, fossil) it is of utmost importance to have permission from the owner of the land, or whoever owns or controls the appropriate mineral or surface rights. Casual collecting, as allowed on Forest Service and BLM lands does not allow disturbance of the land, so really only involves the surface. Oddly, fossils have been considered part of the surface estate. Someone else holding the mineral rights would not prevent excavation of a fossil. Fossils can be severed from the surface and mineral rights. One exception to this, related to fossils on Native American owned land placed in trust with the US government, is most easily explained as - fossils in the ground are real estate or real property, and to gain permission for their removal one must gain permission from the Department of the interior, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as well as from the owner.

In a word, gaining legal permission to collect something can be COMPLICATED. Do your homework before you dig, and the chance of problems arising dramatically decreases.

Re: How's your provenance?
July 18, 2012 06:49PM
My thought was the same as Reiner's, when I originally read this thread, I dream of the day even one of the hundreds of mines in Western Australia would allow a collector in. It would amount to a few cents in lost ore production. A court case here a few years ago came to the same conclusion when a mine worker was charged with stealing specimens, and he was acquitted. If I could investigate the provenance of my low value collection, some may come from dodgey sources. Unless I take up collecting stamps instead, I have little other option. It amounts to an insignifcant proportion of what is destroyed in the mining process, and along the way I am protecting something of far more value. If mining companys were concerned with this, then they would faciltate a method of providing specimens to the public.
Re: How's your provenance?
July 18, 2012 08:20PM
for what it's worth, I did some quick checking and on this site:

from the Idaho Department of Lands, it lays out the laws, rules and regulations for rockhounding on public lands.

From my understanding, it is not nearly as restrictive as Bob would have it sound. it says specifically that:
"All Idaho State endowment lands are open to casual exploration for gemstones and mineral specimens providing they are not under a valid exploration location or mineral lease."
And also: "Rockhounds are welcome to collect rocks and gemstones from most public land administered by the US Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management, but there are some exceptions..." those exceptions being wilderness areas and areas that are under active mining claims.

I get the feeling that rules governing rock and mineral collecting vary widely by state; some states may be far more restrictive than others. In New Mexico for instance, I understand there was an effort to ban rockhounding in an area that was actually called "Rockhound State Park!" (I dont know if that ban was successfully passed.) But from the sound of it, it is NOT a crime to dig crystals on US forest service land in Idaho, at any rate. Now if I was to go in with heavy machinery and start digging away, then I would probably need to file a mining claim, and I believe there ARE some regulations concerning re-selling items that you collected yourself without a permit, however it is apparently NOT a crime to simply do some casual specimen hunting on MOST public lands.
Re: How's your provenance?
July 18, 2012 09:41PM

Notice that most of my post refers to fossils, which have more restrictive regulations than minerals. Also, please check the CFR's for the federal definition of casual collecting, before doing anything more than overturning a rock. Always check with the local land management offices before you collect, to get an understanding of local policies and procedure. They often can direct you to collecting sites. Regulations governing state lands are often more lenient than federal regulations, but most states, at least out west, have far more federal land than state land. With just a few state land exceptions, fossils for the private sector are collected only from private land.

Collecting crystals from Forest Service land in Idaho may not be a problem, but digging might be, even just with pick and shovel. Check to be sure, before you dig. If you want to open a large scale dig, using powered equipment, there will generally be state permits and federal mine plans required before your claim can be worked.



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