Where to find fossils in Utah

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In 2007, John and Brenda Bell stumbled across a 4-foot-long fossilized bone while hiking near Arches National Park. Although not experts, the Bells were sure the bone was from a dinosaur and wisely left it undisturbed and then notified the State Paleontologist at the UGS. Courtesy of UGS.

UTAH (ABC4) – The Beehive State’s unique and beautiful landscape is no joke to any outdoor enthusiast. Utah’s bounty of canyons, high peaks, beachy fronts, and green meadows supply a never-ending string of experiences any adventurer could ever ask for.

According to the Utah Geological Survey, besides your classic outdoor excursion, there is more than meets the eye here in the Interior West. For instance, if you are daring enough you can discover ancient fossils buried not as deep as you’d think here in the Utah Desert.

“Find a fossil near you! Our interactive fossil guide highlights Utah’s rich history through mapping various museums, track sites, and quarries found throughout the state,” the Utah Geological Survey tells ABC4.

According to UGS interactive fossil guide, Utah is home to about 15 fossil tracksites and at each track site, the general public can uncover important discoveries in Early Jurassic paleontological history.

“Exhibits include exceptionally well-preserved dinosaur tracks, fossil fish and plants, rare dinosaur remains, invertebrates traces, and important sedimentary structures,” tells the Utah Geological Survey.

Utah is also home to 12 fossil museums and two fossil quarries according to the Utah Geological fossil guide.

So, let’s say you decide to spend your day fossil hunting, then what? Are you allowed to take it back home and keep it? Well according to officials that depends.

Since fossils are widely found throughout Utah, depending on land ownership, some fossils can or can not be collected for personal non-commercial use. However, vertebrate fossils may not be collected on any federal or state lands.

“Vertebrate fossils are from animals that have a backbone. The fossils include bones, teeth, skin impressions, footprints, tail drags, and other traces of activity,” tells the Utah Geological Survey. “Vertebrates found in Utah include dinosaurs, fish, turtles, and mammals such as mammoths and musk oxen.”

So, whether you can keep a fossil or not depends on:

  1. The type of fossil
  2. Who owns or manages the land where the fossil was found

According to the Utah Geological Survey, only the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service allows some fossil collecting.

If you would like to collect some fossils here are three basic steps to take into consideration:

  1. Determine ownership of the land you intend to visit. Consult surface-management-status maps (sold by various agencies and outlets including the UGS and BLM).
  2. Become familiar with the regulations that apply to collecting on the various lands. Refer to the UGS flier Publication Information Series 23, Rules and Regulations Regarding Rock, Mineral, and Fossil Collecting in Utah, which is available at the Natural Resources Map & Bookstore or online.
  3. Contact the appropriate land manager/owner to inquire about any specific regulations.
  4. If you discover a fossil, report it.

“Many fossil finds end up in private collections, depriving the public and scientists of vital opportunities for research, education, and display. Therefore, no matter where you find a fossil or what the fossil is, the UGS strongly encourages you to report your find to the State Paleontologist or other paleontology staff at the UGS,” informs officials. “Then, the site of your discovery will be documented for scientific purposes!”

According to the Utah Geological Survey, there are also general rules to keep in mind as well:

  • Vertebrate fossils may not be collected on any federal or state lands except under permits issued to accredited institutions.
  • Invertebrate and plant fossils may be collected (in reasonable amounts if collection is for personal, non-commercial purposes) on BLM, USFS, and state-administered Trust Lands with the following conditions:
    • Some BLM lands may be closed to collecting for various reasons. Inquire at the appropriate local BLM office.
    • Collecting permits are required on USFS lands and may vary per district. Contact the applicable USFS district.
    • Collecting on state-administered Trust Lands requires a permit and payment of an annual fee. Permits may be obtained at Trust Lands offices.
  • Permission is required to collect on private lands. Always check with the landowner before removing any fossils.
  • Private landowners have the right to keep any fossils found on their property. They are urged to report any fossil finds to the UGS.

However you may decide to spend your time outdoors, we at ABC4 urge you to stay safe and have fun.

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