BOZEMAN – A Montana State University paleontologist who worked for nearly two decades on legislation to protect dinosaur fossils on federal land has received an international award for his work.
Pat Leiggi, administrative director of paleontology and director of exhibits at MSU’s Museum of the Rockies, shares the Gregory Award from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology with Ted J. Vlamis of Wichita, Kan.
“Basically the legislation makes it easier for federal agencies to protect our fossil sites, and makes for fines that hopefully will deter potential thieves,” said Jack Horner, curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies and a longtime colleague of Leiggi.
Leiggi and Vlamis spearheaded the effort that resulted in the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act, signed by President Barack Obama in 2009.
The act protects vertebrate fossils on public land as scientific resources rather than government property. The penalty for stealing government property was far less than the penalty for stealing scientific resources.
Vlamis, an expert in the legislative process, and Leiggi believed it would take two or three years to pass the fossil legislation. Leiggi said changes in administration, staff turnover and the struggle to educate people about the issue caused the effort to drag on for 17 years.
“It’s not national health care or the economy or a lot of things that are on people’s minds,” Leiggi said. “You’ve got to get it on their radar and get them interested.”