Many paleontologists (both amateur and professional) choose to look for fossils on privately-owned property, but the process for working on BLM-managed property is a very rigorous one. Some plant and invertebrate fossils may be collected by amateur paleontologists on federal land, but to prospect or collect vertebrate fossils (including trace fossils like trackways, coprolites, or skin impressions) requires special permits.
"Fossils found on public lands are important for the story they can tell us about the development of life on Earth and about the physical changes in the Earth itself. They provide clues to a myriad of important and intriguing questions, from the “hot” topic of dinosaur extinctions to studies of plate tectonics (the geology of the Earth’s structural deformation). Consequently, the public lands provide great outdoor laboratories and classrooms for the study of paleontology and also contribute significantly to public exhibits found in museums. For example, BLM’s Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry in Utah has produced fossils that are exhibited in over 40 museums worldwide. Undamaged, BLM’s fossil resources can reveal not only how the plant and animal communities have changed, but how the face of the Earth has been altered by the movement of continents, the uplift of mountain ranges, the appearance and disappearance of ice caps, and the flooding and drying of huge areas of land.You can find out more about the BLM and the many projects they manage by visiting their website at http://www.blm.gov, or by reading their America's Priceless Heritage: Cultural and Fossil Resources on Public Lands (2003), from which the quote above is taken.
The need to protect these precious resources is urgent—BLM does not have the luxury of leaving the preservation or restoration of a unique cultural or paleontological resource for another day. As the agency pursues its multiple use mission, we need the help of the public to do so in a manner that meets contemporary economic and community goals, while conserving our priceless heritage for the next generation."