The Desert IndependentTM

Serving Blythe and the Desert Regions of the Southwest Since 2001


Collection of Meteorites on Public Land

By Robert Winkler
The Desert Independent

October 20, 2012

The BLM is instituting a new policy to guide their managers on the collection of meteorites on public lands. The policy will use three categories: casual collection of small quantities without a permit; scientific and educational use by permit under the authority of the Antiquities Act; and commercial collection of meteorites through the issuance of land use permits.

Meteorites are natural objects originating in outer space that survive impact with the earth’s surface. The extra-terrestrial origin of meteorites, as well as their relative rarity, has made them highly desirable to casual collectors, commercial collectors, and scientific researchers. Previously, the BLM has not formally addressed rules regarding collection of meteorites on public lands. However, recent media attention has increased public interest in meteorites as well as confusion about the legality of and limits to casual and commercial collection. Courts have long established that meteorites belong to the owner of the surface estate. Therefore, meteorites found on public lands are part of the BLM’s surface estate, belong to the Federal Government, and must be managed as natural resources in accordance with the FLPMA of 1976. Meteorites do not meet the definition of a mineral resource under the general mining and mineral laws. Therefore, mining claims cannot be located for meteorites. 

The new policy by the BLM acknowledges a long-established tradition of collecting meteorites by individual hobbyists, but also recognizes that meteorites may be of significant scientific and commercial value. 

The categories are further defined as follows:

Casual Collection

Meteorites may be casually collected, free and without a permit in accordance with regulations that limit the collection to certain public lands. Public lands closed to casual collection include: developed recreation sites, certain units of the National Landscape Conservation System, areas excluded from casual collection in a Land Use Plan such as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) or a wilderness area, and areas closed by supplemental regulations.

Individuals are limited to collecting what can be easily hand-carried, up to a maximum of ten pounds of meteorites per individual, per year. Only surface collection of meteorites using non-motorized and non-mechanical equipment is allowed, although metal detectors may be used. Casually-collected meteorites are for personal use only, and may not be bartered or sold for commercial purposes.

Scientific and Educational Use

Individuals or institutions intending to collect meteorites for scientific research or educational use must obtain an Antiquities Act permit through a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) State Office, in accordance with federal regulation. Applications for an Antiquities Act permit will be reviewed by the authorized officer in the BLM State Office with jurisdiction over the Cultural Resources program. Collection amounts allowed for scientific or educational use are specified in the permit and are not subject to the limits (ten pounds) established for casual collection. Meteorites collected under permit must be curated in an approved repository, and must meet the requirements for curation as defined by federal regulation.

Commercial Collection

Unless otherwise prohibited by laws, regulations, land use plans or closures, meteorites may be commercially collected by individuals possessing a land use permit issued under the authority of the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act (FLPMA). Land use permits are issued by the local BLM office in accordance with federal regulations.

The applicant must pay an application fee, a purchase price based on either a unit price or a percentage of the fair market value of the removed material, and a reclamation fee as appropriate. The permittee must comply with all environmental laws and regulations for surface disturbing activities on public lands.

Collection amounts allowed for commercial use are specified in the permit and are not subject to the limits (ten pounds) established for casual collection.

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