Montana Legislature Clarifies Ownership Rights of Fossils
The Montana Legislature unanimously passed a bill Friday to clarify that fossils are part of a property's surface rights, not its mineral rights, unless a contract separating those rights says otherwise.
The state Senate passed the bill 50-0 after it passed the House 100-0 in February. It now goes to Gov. Steve Bullock for his signature.
The bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Brad Hamlett, was prompted by a legal challenge over the ownership of valuable dinosaur fossils unearthed on an eastern Montana ranch in 2006.
Supporters of the bill said federal agencies and state lands policies differentiate between minerals and fossils and state law should follow suit.
The legislation will not affect the court case over the ownership of the fossils of two dinosaurs that appeared to have been locked in battle when they died.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in November that the fossils of the so-called "Dueling Dinosaurs" are made up of minerals and are part of the property's mineral estate, which is partially owned by brothers Jerry and Bo Severson.