The law at that time didn't refer to vertebrate fossils as scientific resources. They were commonly known as government property, Leiggi said. Therefore, if private collectors removed dinosaur fossils from public land, the law could only charge them with theft of government property. The penalty for stealing government property was far less than the penalty for stealing scientific resources.
"We were concerned about that," Leiggi said.
He was also concerned about private collectors removing fossils from the public domain by selling them on eBay and other outlets, Leiggi said. If that happens, fossils "do not benefit society. They do not benefit education. They do not benefit the public at large."
Vlamis' involvement was invaluable because he is an expert in the legislative process and knowing how to work with Congress and federal agencies, Leiggi said. He was a member of Sen. Bob Dole's campaign election staff and Congressional staff in addition to being an amateur paleontologist whose family owns the world's largest toy balloon company. Either Vlamis or Leiggi chaired the SVP's Government Affairs Committee from 1991 until this year.
The two originally thought it would take two to three years to pass the fossil legislation, but it took much longer because of changes in administration, staff turnover and the struggle to educate people about the issue, Leiggi said.
"It's not national healthcare or the economy or a lot of things that are on people's minds," Leiggi said. "You've got to get it on their radar and get them interested."
He and Vlamis emphasized the need to preserve fossils f
|Contact: Evelyn Boswell|
Montana State University