Rockhounding Law – But First, A Disclaimer
Surprisingly - especially given the number of lawyers in the United States - there is not a succinct, understandable, helpful, practical summary of the law pertaining to collecting rocks, minerals, gemstones, fossils, meteorites, and artifacts. Not to worry. My dad is an attorney and he knows a lot about natural resources, real property, mining, and minerals law and, lucky for me, he is a very good attorney (incredibly, he is a recognized expert on mineral resources law … and, even still, he's pretty handy in the outdoors). So, with some negotiation (and a promise to help – much more regularly – with the family chores), dad agreed to help me prepare this section. But, keep in mind, that my dad is not your lawyer (he probably doesn't even know you) and obviously you are not hiring or relying on my dad for any legal counsel of any kind. If you need a lawyer, you need to hire a lawyer. Dad made me add that part. Something about not wanting to get sued for malpractice. Lawyers!
Rockhounding Law Resources
Gator Girl Rocks includes several pages with specific information regarding the law pertaining to collecting rocks, minerals, gemstones, fossils, meteorites, artifacts, and treasure troves. In addition, there is an overview that provides a useful framework to help you think about rockhounding law. Because the majority of recreational rockhounding occurs on federal property, these materials emphasize that aspect.
Okay … But I Saw Joe Doing …
It is not uncommon to see people breaking the law. Rockhounding, in that regard, is no different from other regulated activities in which people participate. Some people turn square corners, some don't. That's just a fact. If, however, you are caught breaking the law, it simply is no defense that someone else also broke the law but did or did not get caught. More importantly, for recreational rockhounders, our ability to engage in this worthwhile activity depends - to a large degree - on our collective conduct. Generally speaking, each year less and less lands - public and private - are available to recreational rockhounders and one of the most significant reasons for the loss of access is the conduct of people. If you're a recreational rockhounder, set a positive example.