Rockhounding Rules and Sales

Was: [4Sale] Psilomelane & Brontothere cabs

Recently a post was presented that raised a concern.

It mentioned selling cabochons created from Vertebrate Fossils and
other stones found. No mention of Provenance was made. Now I have to
admit that concerning the Gem Industry I can be cynical (am also a
conspiracy theorist and am a paranoid). So I go worst-case-scenario
all the time.

Since I collect, cut, and sell, gemstones and offer them to the
public I have found that few people understand the laws regarding
stone collecting. And even some Gem Shop owners aren’t so educated.

I thought I might present on this subject.

In about 1989 I was stopped by a Ranger while collecting soapstone
from an outcropping of rock along Washington State’s SR 20 (North
Cascades Highway). All of the Soapstone was confiscated and I was
forced to go in front of a Magistrate for “Illegal Extraction of a
Mineral Substance”. Now, I have to say I looked at a map and saw that
I was outside of the North Cascades National Park. I thought I was
safe from Rangers. But I was not. It just so happens that I was on a
sliver of land that had been given to the National Park Service. Park
Service rules apply! I tried to plead Ignorance.

The Magistrate said “As a rockhound it’s up to you to know the
rules, regulations, property status of the place where you are
collecting from and to gain permission from the owner, whether
privately held, or from the government…”

I was let off easy, but the Magistrate said that If I came in front
of him again for a rock or mineral violation he would throw the book
at me. More on that in a second.

People always ask me whether I find the rocks I sell. I say yes I
find all of them, but mostly on tables at shows. I then point to the
Ellensburg Blue, some local Carnelian, and some pink agate I
recovered from a building site in Cottonwood, Arizona, 15 years ago
and the sapphires, sunstones, and opals from Oregon and Nevada as
examples of stones found personally. I explain that I can’t just walk
out into the wild and start picking up rock to cut and sell, that it
is against the law. At this point I often get a look of disbelief.
Since I am selling rock I have to have a permit (a claim constitutes
a permit) to sell material found on BLM or National Forrest Lands. Of
course I can sell anything I recover from private land that I have
collected with Permission. Fee sites are a good place to collect for
sale, but Rock Club or Mineral Counsel Claims are not. It’s
unfortunate that almost every entry in the Gem Trails series of books
are off limits to me. They are fine for casual collectors, but not
commercial cutters. On BLM land we are all allowed 25 pounds of
Petrified wood plus one piece per day not to exceed 250 pound per
calender year. That’s great, but you can’t sell it without a permit
and some BLM officers are not aware of this allowance and will
confiscate the material leading to a battle which you will not have
enough time or energy to win.

The BLM (Bureau of Land Management) does not offer commercial
permits for fossils.

One thing you cannot collect from Public land… Vertebrate
Fossils. The Federal Government reserves this for accredited
institutions. Another thing… American Indian Artifacts. This
includes Scrapers. Before I knew what they looked like I thought they
were natural agate, or jasper, rock fragments.

This year I’ve had a number of people mention finding gems in
National Parks. You simply cannot collect anything from National
Parks or Monuments. Not so much as a pebble. That is what I did. I
got off easy that time. Next time (there will be no next time)
$10,000 and a year in Jail.

Also off limits are American Indian lands, military reservations,
wildlife refuges, and dam sites.

State owned lands have their own rules. Most are off limits to
collecting. Some may allow casual collecting for personal use.
County and city owned land also have their own rules.

I have seen rocks from hobby collecting sites for sale in shops and
I have seen material from BLM lands sold in Shops. These practices
are illegal and performed by Professionals. As a cutter or a sales
person, it’s up to you to know the laws surrounding the material you
handle, and ignorance is no excuse.

And one last thing, concerning that agate found on BLM land that you
took home, cut and set into a piece of jewelry, according to one BLM
Officer at the Worland, Wyoming Office, you can keep it, but you
can’t so much as give it to your spouse without a permit.

TL Goodwin

There are very good reasons for limiting collecting in national
parks and monuments – they’re being preserved (modulo some
improvements) and that includes the minerals.

Indian reservations – well, that’s Indian property and they get to
make the rules. Most of the tribes around here aren’t all that happy
about having others tromping all over their land.

Vertebrate fossils on public land – again, it’s a preservation
issue. That doesn’t extend to private land, however, so there’s a lot
of dinosaur bone, etc. out there that’s been legally collected.

The individual sites that are closed – well, there’s a lot of
different reasons. One place here in Arizona is closed during goshawk
nesting season so as not to disturb the endangered goshawks. Others
are closed because collectors have damaged the site. And so forth.

But as far as restrictions on what you can do with the material
you’ve collected legally, I’ve never heard of that. I’ll ask down at
the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum Wednesday when I go in to use
their slab saws.


This very interesting post. I am absolutely ignorant of legal side
of collecting samples. Does anyone know what is the logic behind,
what appears to be, such a nonsensical law. 

Not so nonsensical if you understand the times in which many of the
laws were first written. Look up the dinosaur wars sometime. Also
keep in mind that many of the laws were designed to prevent upset of
research sites. Both by the public and by the competing scientists.
Also how do you stop a prospector from damaging a national forest or
public land when he finds something of value if you have no laws
making it illegal. In for a penny in for a pound. What I find
disturbing is that this thread was originally started by someone
stating they wereworkingon an Eocene mamal project. Trust me if he
is, and he actually pays attention to his studies, he knows the
rules. Even if he knows them and has failed to learn respect for
them. It is possible that he legally collects them but that would be
potentially difficult. I would ask for locality info to ensure that
the specimens were legally collected and verification by his
professor lets say, to ensure that they are as stated far as
identification goes. I’ve done collecting for collegiate
paleontology work. I know geology students that supplement their
income by specimen collecting. Both legally and illegally. Ethics,
sometimes its a grey area, but often it’s not. What I can tell you is
that I can go on-line to e-bay and buy just about any fossil of any
type from any laggerstatten legal or illegal in the world. Then I
have the ethical question of whether I buy it so that some idiot
doesn’t own precious research material or skip it since it can’t be
used for research anyway as it was illegally collected. Makes my head

This relates to the gem material since many of the early
paleontologists were just as likely to be geologists as biologists.
Just as a side note. Realized that I was going on about fossils when
the thread was more far reaching. Same laws apply across the board
for most ‘rock’ specimens. If you are in doubt about the laws in an
area you would like to collect you can ask the area geological
survey. Usually part of the buroug of land management I believe.
Make sure to do it well in advance. If there is permission needed it
takes forever. Oh and if you are collecting on private land where it
is legal to do so make sure you get the land owners permission EVERY
time. In writing. Even if it is a property you have collected on
before. There are many who don’t and it greatly upsets the
landowners and causes problems for others in the future. All that
stated I do have lovely triasic invertebrate stuff in marble and
other types of stones that I have legally collected myself and cut
and will oneday set. It can be quite rewarding. Particullarly if you
have done enough research to say what the animals are. I love
taxonomy almost as much as art.


In the interests of balance it must also be pointed out that despite
the belief that the United States is the center of the universe, it
is not true. Orchid is an international list and while something may
be true where if one lives say in Richford, Vermont However I live 3
miles north of a funny line called an international border, and as
such am subject to a completely different set of laws, as to the
south of you a Mexican would be. And for that matter (depending on
the tribe and treaty status) neither does an Indian on a reservation.

Fine you got crapped on by your judicial system, because you broke
the law. Someone collecting 2 miles away on private land would not
have been subject to the same penalties by your admission. Also quite
frankly, I would like to know how your statement

concerning that agate found on BLM land that you took home, cut and
set into a piece of jewelry, according to one BLM Officer at the
Worland, Wyoming Office, you can keep it, but you can't so much as
give it to your spouse without a permit. 

Is even enforceable? Does the BLM have a “instant BLM harvested
material” detector? Or has the US moved to the Napoleonic code, where
you are guilty if the BLM accuses you and you have to prove

In any case whatever the rules are in your sandbox, George Bush
notwithstanding, it just does not mean that the rest of the world
has to play by your rules.

Give it a rest

I dunno how that is in your state but if there is such a law it is
most definitely NOT enforced in Arizona. Most public lands are
open to collecting, including even commercial collecting, de facto
if not de jure. 

The reason this law is not enforced in Arizona is a manpower issue.
There are not enough agents to catch you in such a broad state.

There was a rule, of late, for some areas of AZ, ONE ROCK ONLY
(Crystal Hill).

And anyway, BLM RULES apply on BLM Land in Arizona and Nationwide.

So, are you sure you are up to date with your ideas of what is

BTW, I had never been aware of the existence of the Bureau of Land
Management until I moved to Arizona.

TL Goodwin


This very interesting post. I am absolutely ignorant of legal side
of collecting samples. Does anyone know what is the logic behind,
what appears to be, such a nonsensical law. 

A pebble here and one there and soon you have a strip mine. Not fun
if it’s your front yard. Federal lands are held in trust for the
people, present and future. I really don’t really like government
interference but this is one case where they are probably doing some

Fossils and rocks take a while to create. Maybe in 60 million years
some one will want to cab a Leonid bone fossil :slight_smile:

Demand Designs
Analog/Digital Modelling & Goldsmithing

Hey Gang

I have collected, along with rockhound friends from Portland, Ore.,
for the last 20+ years. We have collected in Oregon, Washington,
Idaho, Nevada, California, Wyoming and Arizona. The rules for BLM
land (Public land for us Canadians) was that we could collect all
the agates, jaspers, gems, opals and up to 200 lbs per person/per
year of petrified wood as long as we used only hand tools. What we
did with it later was up to us. As to fossils I was not in the know
as they are difficult at best to bring into Canada. Some areas had
restrictions as to vehicles used, e.g. no catalytic converters in
areas prone to fires. As to private land it was solely at the
discretion and permission of the land owner, except where fossils
were concerned, and we did not bother with fossils other than some
agatized coral/ turritellas anyway. The restrictions to hand tools
was to prevent commercial interests from bulldozing out large areas
of good collecting plus putting a limit on petrified wood (and
Rangers do randomly stop people in know wood collecting areas, and
weigh your diggings). The same goes for Oregon’s ‘Thundereggs’.

I know of at least 2 companies in Oregon that regularly hand dig
petrified wood numerous times per year and sell it commercially. One
of these sells a lot of the larger, cut & polished pieces to
customers from Germany and Japan. Most of the rockhounds in Oregon
collect petrified wood, and many make it into jewellery and objects
to sell, including many rock shops that purchase finished goods from
the rockhounds. I do not know about most of the other states as I
was not fortunate enough to be able to rockhound in these states.

Karen Bahr - Karen’s Artworx
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Rules do vary a lot by country…I lived in Norway for 14 years and
as long as you weren’t on private mine land, you were free to pick
up rocks wherever…but then again, you were also free to walk in
the woods without worrying about no-trespassing signs or owners with
shotguns. That’s one of the few things I miss about being over


This very interesting post. I am absolutely ignorant of legal side
of collecting samples. Does anyone know what is the logic behind,
what appears to be, such a nonsensical law. 

Yes, it’s the same idea that that governs the use of feathers or
exotic animal skins or ivory.

You see, if you were allowed to use the eagle or owl feather you
found on the sidewalk in your jewelry, then you might create a demand
for hawk or owl feather jewelry. Interestingly enough it is up to
$5,000 and six months in prison for each feather from a bird of prey.
I was once told only Native Americans can posses such feathers
(unless you were given the feathers from a Native American and that
Native American is willing to give papers or vouch for the gift)
exept for accredited institutions. As one ranger told me, all bird
feathers, unless these birds have a hunting season, are off limits.
Of course domestic bird feathers are also legal.

But in the case of rocks, if you are allowed to do it, everyone else
will be allowed which can lead to depletion. This depletion occurs
even where it’s not allowed.

Case in point: Yellowstone National Park where it is illegal to take
rocks. Glass Mountain has no visible obsidian anymore because it was
taken illegally over the years. It was a sight, not anymore.
Petrified Tree is reduced in size and behind iron bars because it was
violated. Now this is in a national park!

This law makes sense considering Uncle Sam feels it’s entitled to a
monetary reward for providing you with a livelihood. If you could
just walk out into the wild and find rocks to sell, there would be no
need for claims or permits.

And please don’t confuse enforceability with legality.

Also, I am not an agent of the Federal Government. I do not speak
for the Government. This is only what I have been lead to perceive.

Thank you

TL Goodwin

are you sure you are up to date with your ideas of what is allowed? 

Up to date on the laws? Reasonably. I do some of my collecting with
a rock club that includes members who work for the BLM, USGS and the
state department of mines and minerals. I’ll guarantee you that group
doesn’t violate any laws.

There are an increasing number of sites that are closed to
collectors, but most BLM and Forest Service land is emphatically not

As to making commercial use of what you collect. At the very least I
can say no one pays any attention if you don’t overdo it. If you
hauled out a ton or so of material and sold it, you might have

OTOH I’ve seen quite a lot of rock from public lands in Arizona for
sale on the internet, both as rough, slabs and finished stones. No
one says anything. (How do I know it’s from public lands? Because I
know the specific sites where it was collected and I’ve collected on
some of them myself.) I’ve seen a lot more for sale at local rock


At least small quantities on most public lands there’s no problem
what you do with them. If you were carting off a ton at a time, I

Disposition of legally collected rocks is not controlled at all in
practice and I don’t think it’s against the law.

I’m sure if it was I would have heard about it by now.


To Kay Davis

Yes, I should have said “Rockhounding Rules and Sales in the U.S.”,
but I wasn’t thinking about it. I have no knowledge of any other
country. Also, I am not writing from a level of enforceability. I
though I said that. See, im my mind I live in an “Honest” world, with
few people willing to play along, clearly.

I’m trying to not sound so mean these days in my posts. <>

Enforceability? Not enough agents, remember?

This very interesting post. I am absolutely ignorant of legal side
of collecting samples. 

I’m finding this thread very useful. Thank you.

A few months ago, while digging a new garden bed, I found a
softball-size quartz rock with embedded black tourmaline crystals.
Having seen one, I’ve since found two more. I realize that schorl
isn’t very $, but they look very pretty sitting on our hearth.

I’d been tossing “nuisance” garden rocks into the woods. I won’t be
doing that so quickly any more. And I’ve become a fan of
(We have a few quarries in our area that still accommodate



Not to point out that the Black Market in Indian Artifacts is
(allegedly) fueled by government agents, but…

I am just saying, it is still wrong to turn your car without
signaling and it’s still illegal to speed when cops are not around.
And cops speed illegally all the time!

I said Shops are not aware of the rules, and some Pros are not

I am also aware of the lack of enforcement.

Did you not read my quote from a BLM official in the Worland,
Wyoming Office? You can recover a gemstone from BLM Land, no problem.
but you can’t even give it to your wife.

Hey, I didn’t just make this up!

Disposition of legally collected rocks is not controlled at all in
practice and I don't think it's against the law. Lack of
enforcement! And not knowing.... This, indeed you, are what I'm
talking about! 
Up to date on the laws? Reasonably. I do some of my collecting
with a rock club that includes members who work for the BLM, USGS
and the state department of mines and minerals. I'll guarantee you
that group doesn't violate any laws. Do they sell to shops? Or sell
finished jewelry with gems they poach? Probably not. Not talking
about collecting, I'm talking about sales without a permit. 
There are an increasing number of sites that are closed to
collectors, but most BLM and Forest Service land is emphatically
not closed. I never said that most BLM and Forest Service land was
emphatically closed. 

Again, please don’t confuse enforceability with legality.

TL Goodwin
The Pacifik Image

This is indeed an interesting subject.
Now I would like to add my dime to this thread.

Been Rockhunting since I was 8 years old, I am now 57. I have
collected in California, Nevada, Oregon, Arizona, Ohio and hope to
make it to New Mexico in the near future. Not quite sure if this
started as a complaint of regulation or just general
Here is my take on the subject. I have seen many changes in the
regulation of rock collecting over the years both self imposed by
fellow rockhounds and those imposed by land owners/government. Most
changes becasue 10% of the rockhounds are fairly greedy and careless.
There was a time when the BLM was pro Rockcollecting, rumor had it
that the head of the BLM at that time was an ex Miner. lol California
for instance was one of the best rockhunting states in the west. You
could collect true gems, Tourmaline, Kunzite, Topaz, Amethyst, etc.
mainly in the southern area. I am sure many of you know of the
Tourmalines coming from the Pala area in California but I bet most
don’t know that there are close to 50 smaller 1 and 2 man holes that
have been covered up and now have houses on them. That is one form af
regulation. An extreme form of regulation would be the petrified
forest in the Mojave desert north of Red Rock Canyon. You won’t find
it today because it was depleted in the early 1900’s. Along with
prime geode and nodules beds southwest of Blythe. California does
have some regulations straight forward for rockhunting such as
requireing a permit to collect Obsidian in the Davis creek area and
disallowing the use of heavey equipment on the BLM lands for the
purpose of collecting rocks. these are enforced whe a BLM ranger is
in the vicenity, and believe me between the BLM and USFS they are
very good atr concealment these days. Arizona is another State that
is good collecting but it is limited, the so called Puplic land is
sparse in the best areas of collecting. We have a mixture of Indian
Reservation, private and Federal land.

Petrified wood is allowed to be collected up to 250 lbs a year per
person providing you can find an area you are allowed to collect on.
You might ba allowed to collect on Indian Reservation land if you
get permission and a permit. Of course there are other forms of
regulation that are not pointed just at rock hunting but at land
use, we’re talking “Future” land use. This is land brought under the
Scenic and wild rivers act, and other acts that protect land from
being vandilized by off road vehicles and even foot traffic. You
won’t see Biggs picture jasper too much longer as that is what
happened to that mines and could possibly happend to others in the
near future. Personally I am for regulation that protects from
rampant collecting but not rampant regualtion that prevents ro
eliminates old collecting sites that are soon to run out anyway. In
the old days you could just get in your jeep and head out utnil you
found a spot that looked promising.

Now you need to make inquireies ahead of time to see if collecting
is allowed and where, Above all, landowners are a bit different
these days, you need to get permission in advance before collecting,
it is only polite and considerate, the same as in the old days but
then the owners usually lived on the land they owned. As you can see
there are many forms of regulations and enforcements, these are
constantly changing as well. I know I created a novel here but I
have one last thing to add. If you get out and do some rockhunting
and you should run into an older fella say in his 60s or more, you
might strike up a conversation with the gent or lady, I’ll bet you
get enough great stories to make up for all the nice pieces you
didn’t find.

Hope no one got too bored.
Take Care