The process of fossilization is slow-going and extremely rare. Once a fossil is gone, it can never be replaced. Fossil theft and casual collecting in National Parks has led to the loss of invaluable scientific information.
You are encouraged to look for fossils in Big Bend and enjoy the thrill of discovery. However, please leave the fossils in place for others to experience and study. We invite you to photograph your fossil finds and share your photos with a Park Ranger. Writing down a description of where you found the fossil is helpful, too. The fossils you discover may be the missing piece in our understanding of Big Bend’s rich paleontological history.
A Sad Tale
In 2000 Dr. Tom Lehman and Dr. Elisabeth Wheeler published a scientific paper about the petrified woods of Big Bend National Park. Their study only required measurements and very small samples of each petrified log to be collected, allowing the fossil resources to remain in the wild of Big Bend. In their publications they purposefully exclude the exact location of these valuable resources because of concern that amateur collectors would illegally remove the fossils from the park.
Three samples of the petrified logs Dr. Lehman and Dr. Wheeler described belonged to a new genus, Baasoxylon parenchymatosum. This fossil tree has only been found in Big Bend National Park, nowhere else in the world. In 2002, Dr. Lehman and Dr. Wheeler returned to Big Bend to check in on their petrified wood localities. As they walked towards the site where they found B. parenchymatosum they noticed fresh footprints leading in the same direction. The tracks led directly to the site of this rare fossil wood, and the petrified log was almost entirely gone. Only small flakes of wood remained next to impressions in the ground where the log had formerly lain. One third of all the known specimens of this rare fossil wood had been stolen from Big Bend.
The poachers were likely unaware of the rarity and scientific significance of this fossil. They acted on selfish impulses and collected fossils illegally in a national park. This is stealing a resource from the American people and future generations. There is no tolerance for fossil theft at Big Bend National Park, and those individuals caught face jail time and expensive fines. Please follow the laws of our national parks and if you find fossils, take only photos.