- Be afraid. Be VERY afraid. Taking a walk with your young son? Having the “Best Day Ever”? THE CORPS IS WATCHING YOU.
OK, enough time has passed, and I’ve stewed on this long enough. Last summer, I had a blog post where I defended the Corps of Engineers. With the record flooding on the Missouri River, the Corps was taking heat for mismanaging the dams along the Missouri. I defended the Corps and blasted the Corps critics for choosing to blame Corps and the government, instead of record rainfall and snowpack.
I am now taking all of that back. The Corps DID cause flooding on the Missouri River. Oh, the Corps ALSO is solely responsible for global warming, war, famine, pestilence, and teenage acne.
You see, I was “rewarded” for my post defending the Corps, and my reward was a visit from a Corps Park Ranger (who knew they had such a thing?), and threat of a $500 ticket. Multiple times over the winter, I had mysterious phone calls from security at the USGS facility where I work. They said a “ranger” wanted to see me. I was gone on travel the first few times it happened, so all I had were messages on my machine. But, a few months ago…
I got to work, sat down, and almost immediately, the phone rang. It was again from security, saying a park ranger was here to see me. Having NO idea what it was about, I walked out into the atrium and was greeted by a Corps ranger in uniform. I shook his hand, asked what it was about, and we walked back to the (very public) cafeteria for a chat. The chat started out with him talking about my website and how much he enjoyed it. Then…he asked if I liked to go fossil hunting as well as birding.
So, the background….last December, my son and I heard about the fossils you can find on the banks of the Missouri River in the fall, when the water levels drop. I took my son one fine warm December Saturday, and we spent a couple of hours walking the shoreline. It was great! We found 3 small fossils, each about golf-ball sized, including a mosasaur vertebrae, a “tube worm”, and a giant ancient fish vertebrae. The rest of the day, we went birding, ate at a little cafe in a small town, and had a WONDERFUL day. It was SUCH a great day, that night I had a blog post entitled “Best Day Ever.” And…it was! But little did I know…THE CORPS IS WATCHING ONLINE.
Mr. Park Ranger started asking me about that day. Mr. Park Ranger had evidently seen my website, and I have NO doubt it’s because if you had typed in “Corps” with other search terms, my blog popped up because of the one post I had defending them. Silly me. Mr. Park Ranger started to inform me of the illegality of picking up fossils on Corps land. Mr. Park Ranger started to inform me of the $500 ticket that was coming my way…unless I “cooperated”. “Cooperation” evidently meant talking about anyone else I may have known who went there.
I work at USGS. This guy NEVER called me at home. He NEVER tried to contact me PERSONALLY. EVERY TIME he tried to contact me, he contacted head of security at my work!! Even though the “offense” was done on my OWN TIME, and had NOTHING to do with my place of work. But then, he made a comment that at the “U.S. Geological Survey”, there must be other people “interested in fossils“. He obviously was trying to make more out of the situation than was EVER there. He obviously was hoping there was more to the story, than just a father and his son walking along the river.
So I sat there, in the atrium with this guy in uniform, a guard walking around behind me (making sure I didn’t bolt and make my way to Venezuela or something????). I had colleagues walk by and jokingly ask “are you in trouble with the law” and other similar comments, since I was sitting there with this guy in uniform, with a security guard behind me. I replied “well, yeah, kind of!!!”. ALL because the Corps Ranger decided to make this happen at my WORK, and to try to make more of it than it was.
He asked for the fossils. I gave them to him, since they were on my desk at work. To make a long story short…after the threat of a $500 fine and a nice hour-long “discussion” in the atrium….eventually what happened is I got a written warning.
My crime WAS serious. After all, I had posted on my blog ‘BEST DAY EVER’. I had taken a walk along the river with my son, LAND THAT WASN’T MARKED. There’s a mix of ownership at this spot, with no sign to say when I was leaving this one ownership type, and walking onto Corps land. There was no sign saying it was illegal to pick up fossils. In the end? I pick up THREE ROCKS the size of golf balls, on completely unmarked land, and end up with a Park Ranger driving up 2 1/2 hours from Omaha a few times (!!!!), to confront me at WORK, without any personal contact asking me about it, asking if I would talk.
I asked him how I’d have ever known it was illegal to pick up fossils on Corps land. After all, I work for the USGS, part of DOI. Outside of a few special situations, you ARE allowed casual fossil collection like this on DOI land. Who thinks that picking up a few rocks with your young son would get you in trouble, when you’re walking along the river on unmarked land? Mr. Park Ranger’s response? He said that if HE were going out on any Federal land, he would first contact whoever the local enforcement officer was that was responsible for that land, and ask that person what you can or cannot do.
Yeah, sure. Just like EVERYONE does. You’re going for a walk along the river, land with no posts of any kind, and the first thing that comes to your mind is “I MUST contact the federal officer in charge of enforcement for this land, to see what I can and cannot do!!!” Ridiculous, especially given that you ARE allowed to casually collect on other federal land.
Ridiculous, because the shoreline where we were at IS UNDER 10 FEET OF WATER MOST OF THE YEAR!! It’s only when water levels drop in the fall, that this stuff is exposed. So CLEARLY it’s BETTER to leave a golf-ball sized rock under water to erode away, than to teach your son to get outside, look around, and APPRECIATE the natural world and its wonders. It’s CLEARLY BETTER to let a newly exposed little fossil quickly erode away, never to be seen by another human being again, than it is to pick it up and preserve it.
Idiotic. The rule itself…Idiotic. The lack of posting on mere ownership boundaries, much less the illegality of picking up fossils…idiotic. The way the man ENFORCED this, continuing going through SECURITY AT MY WORK instead of CALLING ME PERSONALLY….Idiotic.
Hence, my retraction of my support for the Corps for last year’s flooding. YOU ARE DAMNED STRAIGHT the Corps caused misery and suffering on the Missouri River last year. It was CLEARLY their fault for mismanaging the dams. CLEARLY the Corps single-handedly also causes war, pestilence, disease, famine, and all of the other world ills.
“Best Day Ever”. This is a warning for all of you out there who would ever DARE say something similar online! THE CORPS IS WATCHING YOU….