New meteorite-hunting rules for the U.S., but Canada keeps things simple

A meteor streaks past stars in the night sky. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued new rules today for meteorite hunters in the U.S., specifically for finding them on public lands.

The memorandum, dated September 10th, 2012, divides collection on public lands into three 'use categories':

  • Casual collection: where a hobbyist may collect up to 10 lbs (4.5 kg) of meteorite material for free.
  • Scientific and Educational Use: where they may be collected for scientific or educational purposes, by an individual or organization, after obtaining an Antiquities Act permit from the BLM.
  • Commercial Collection: where any individual collecting meteorites in order to sell them may do so after paying an application fee, a price or percentage of the value, and a reclamation fee.

The new policy is the first time that the Bureau has addressed the topic of meteorites found on public lands.

Canadian law on the matter is clear and simple: Any meteorite found in Canada belongs to the owner of the property it was found on. There is no distinction between privately-owned or publicly-owned land (as far as this author can determine) in this rule, so apparently anything that falls on federal or provincial government land is the property of the government.

Also, any meteorite found in Canada, either on public or private property, is subject to the Cultural Property Export and Import Act. This states that "a Canadian find cannot be exported without a permit from the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA), and application for a permit must be made by a Canadian resident." This applies either for permanent export or temporary export (such as to have testing done). While the permit is being processed, time is given for any Canadian institutions who may wish to purchase the meteorite to make fair-market value offers to the owner.

One of the best places to get information about meteorites in Canada is the website of the Astromaterials Discipline Working Group (ADWG). They are a group of experts from universities across the country, and the Geological Survey of Canada and the Royal Ontario Museum that succeeded the Meteorites and Impacts Advisory Committee to the Canadian Space Agency. Their site provides information on meteorite identification, analysis and various meteorite collections in Canada.

Dr. Chris Herd, who is the chair of the ADWG, recently published a paper based on his examination of the Martian meteorite Tissint.