The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that any fossils found on private land belong to exclusively to the landowners, and that no rights accrue to any owners of the land’s mineral rights.
The Montana Supreme Court this week ruled that fossils are not legally the same as minerals such as gold or copper. Therefore, Montana fossils, including a dramatic specimen of two dinosaurs buried together, belong to people who own the land where they are found, rather than to the owners of the minerals underneath that land.
The 4-3 decision upholds the way U.S. scientists have long approached questions of fossil ownership. It appears to defuse a potentially explosive 2018 ruling by the federal 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that fossils went to the owners of mineral rights.
The outcome is a win for scientists who had warned that tying fossils to mineral rights could make it harder to get permission to excavate and could throw into doubt who owns fossils already on display, says David Polly, an Indiana University paleontologist and past president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
Because the earlier 2018 federal court decision was later appealed and the court then referred the case to Montana’s Supreme Court, this decision settles the dispute nationally as well.
That absurd 2018 9th Court of Appeals decision illustrates how insane that specific federal court had become, packed with many radical leftist and partisan Democratic judges. In the past three years however the balance of that court has been significantly changed, so expect fewer such crazy rulings.
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