State Public Lands & Rockhounds
Question: May I collect specimens from state property?
Answer: It depends. First, each state (and local government) will have their own requirements. Accordingly, you will need to check with local counsel regarding whether rock, mineral, gemstone, meteorite, and fossil collecting is permitted. Second, if collecting is allowed, it very likely will not permit all collecting and may require a permit or fee (for example, it is very rare that vertebrate fossil collecting is allowed). Third, not surprisingly, many states and local governments simply prohibit rock, mineral, gemstone, and fossil collecting on state and/or local public lands.
There are a couple of reasons why state and local governments typically prohibit rock, mineral, gemstone, and fossil specimen collecting. First, some collectors tend to turn public property into a strip mine in a classic example of the 'tragedy of the commons.' They simply internalize any upside (i.e., pose as hobby collectors, but operate a commercial business selling/trading specimens and retain all proceeds), and externalize the social costs (e.g., damaged public resources). States and local governments respond by prohibiting everyone - good actors and bad - from engaging in this hobby. Second, some collectors tend to try to disguise a commercial endeavor as a recreational rockhounding hobby. State and local land managers, again not surprisingly, tend to think that such behavior is inappropriate on public lands. Third, some state and local public land managers simply believe that public lands should not be disturbed - absent, of course, a determined lobby (e.g., backpacking, birding, hiking, hunting, fishing, mushrooming).