BOZEMAN, Mont. -- A Montana State University paleontologist who worked more than 17 years on national legislation to protect dinosaur bones and other vertebrate fossils on federal land has received an international award for outstanding service to the field of paleontology.
Pat Leiggi, administrative director of paleontology and director of exhibits at MSU's Museum of the Rockies, is the first person at MSU, the first Montanan and the 22nd paleontologist to receive the Gregory Award from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
"The Gregory Award is one of the two highest honors in our paleontology society, so it's a very big deal, and one that is very well deserved," said MSU paleontologist Jack Horner, a long-time colleague of Leiggi's since working together at the Princeton University Museum of Natural History.
"Pat has worked extremely hard for this legislation, and we are very honored to have someone from here in Montana receive this award," Horner continued. "Basically the legislation makes it easier for federal agencies to protect our fossil sites, and makes for fines that hopefully will deter potential thieves."
Leiggi, along with Ted J. Vlamis of Wichita, Kan., received the Gregory Award this fall during the 70th annual meeting of the SVP. Leiggi and Vlamis spearheaded the effort that resulted in the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act, which was signed by President Obama in March 2009.
"I was obviously thrilled. I was just kind of tired because it took 17 years to get it passed," Leiggi said.
Leiggi's journey to preserve fossils on federal land began with the 1991 discovery of "Big Al" near Shell, Wyo., Leiggi said. Big Al -- the most complete Allosauarus found up to that point -- was discovered by a Swiss team of commercial fossil collectors that had wandered onto public land. A joint team from the Museum of the Rockies and the University of Wyoming Geological Museum excavated Big Al from
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Montana State University