Newsletter of the Association of Applied Paleontological Sciences


Our regular newsletter is not ready to be sent just yet, but we have some important news to share that should not wait.

We learned that the Montana Supreme Court has filed their split decision regarding the Issue of Mineral rights and fossils. A link to the decision is listed below.

I did want to welcome our newest members that are also listed below.

As we celebrate Memorial Day, please stay well and practice social distancing to help slow the spread of this Covid-19 pandemic. Enjoy the holiday, but let common sense prevail! More next month.

George F. Winters, Administrative Director


Montana Supreme Court Decision

The Montana Supreme Court accepted a certified question from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit asking whether, under Montana law, dinosaur fossils constitute "minerals" that transfer with the mineral estate under a general mineral reservation deed. The Court answered the question NO!

8-year-old Julie Phipps alongside the leg and foot of the ceratopsia during excavationBEJ were the original owners of a sizeable farm and ranch in Garfield County. BEJ began leasing the land to the Murrays in 1983 for the Murrays to ranch. In 2005, the Murrays purchased the surface estate of the property and continued to ranch and farm the land. BEJ retained nearly all of the mineral estate. Beginning in 2005, the Murrays happened upon a "spike cluster" fossil on their property. Following their initial discovery, the Murrays found other valuable dinosaur fossils, including the fossilized remains of two dinosaurs locked in combat (the Dueling Dinosaurs); a large Triceratops foot; a large Triceratops skull; and the nearly complete fossilized remains of a Tyrannosaurus rex (Murray T. Rex). The dinosaur fossils are a huge scientific discovery, extremely rare, and highly valuable; for instance, the Dueling Dinosaurs and Murray T. Rex are each worth several million dollars. In2013, BEJ, because it holds majority title to the mineral estate, claimed it owned a portion of the fossils. The deed reserving the mineral estate to BEJ does not refer to dinosaur fossils or whether fossils are considered minerals owned by the mineral titleholder.

The Court, reaffirming its precedent, held that the "end goal when analyzing a general mineral reservation is to interpret the term 'minerals' according to its 'ordinary and natural meaning,' unless the parties manifest a different intention in the transacting document." The Court held that unlike oil, gas, and hydrocarbons, fossils are not valuable as raw material to be processed into fuel or goods. The ordinary and natural meaning of "mineral" is more commonly thought of as a resource, often nonrenewable, including hard compounds, oil, or gas, which are mined as raw material for further processing, refinement, and eventual economic exploitation. The Court considered that the rarity and value of dinosaur fossils is not related to their mineral composition or their usefulness for further refinement and economic exploitation. Rather, dinosaur fossils are valuable because of their very existence as the remains of once-living organisms. Unlike a mineral which is mined, processed, and developed, fossils' value depend on the completeness of the specimen, the species of dinosaur, and how well the fossil is preserved. The Court also considered the impact of removing dinosaur fossils on the surface estate. Fossils are closely related to the top of the land's surface and often are easily exposed through natural events. Fossils are not mined, but rather are excavated. A large-scale excavation would interfere with the use and value of the surface estate, by rendering the surrounding surface useless for agricultural and grazing purposes. Farmers' and ranchers' investments in the surface of their property should be just as consequential and protected as other individuals' investments in mineral estates. After considering all of these factors, the Court declined to oversimpliff its established precedent by excluding relevant considerations and stretching the term "mineral" so far outside of its ordinary and natural meaning as to include dinosaur fossils.

The dissenting opinion argued that the Court failed to follow its own clear, well-settled precedent under which a substance is a "mineral" for purposes of a mining reservation if: 1) minerals comprise the substance at issue; and2) the substance is rare and exceptional in character or possesses a peculiar property giving it special value. The fossils in question plainly meet that test. Under the Court's new analysis, the fossilized dinosaur bones, having 100% mineral composition, do not meet the first prong of the test. Because the Legislature has resolved the question of dinosaur fossils for future cases, the dissenters criticized the Opinion for crafting a new, convoluted, and opaque three-factor test that in the future will spawn more questions than it answers.

Download the Published Opinion

The decision having been filed, will now be sent back to the 9th Circuit Court for any additional actions.

I spoke with several of the AAPS members deeply involved with this issue since the beginning when the case was first presented to the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, Clayton Phipps, whose family owns title to the property where the specimens were found, Peter Larson of Black Hills Institute of Geological research, who worked with a number of scientific institutions to encourage cooperation, Dr. Robert T. Bakker who worked with attorneys to present scientific arguments, and Samuel Stubbs, Houston Attorney who worked with many of the interested parties and academic entities to provide amicus briefs and consult with witnesses. All will contribute to an article that will appear in the 2021 AAPS Guide and have been invited to say a few words during the annual meeting in Tucson.


Welcome to our Newest Members

Your welcome packets have been mailed. Business members can find a link to their website on our Busines Member's page, please check your listings and verify the information posted is current.

Business Members and Employees
Christoph Helmreich, Saurier Shop
George Edwards, Asterias Two (Welcome Back)
Mike Meacher, Stormbed Paleontological

General Membership
Keith Krueger (Welcome Back)
Bob Graham
Wayne Smiglewski
Jason Mitchell

Associate Members
Lisa Ann Nicholson


Donations to AAPS Tax DeductibleDonations to AAPS The Association of Applied Paleontological Sciences, AAPS, is a public charity under IRS section 501(c)(3). As such it is tax exempt for income tax purposes and is permitted to receive tax deductible gifts pursuant to the Internal Revenue Service. It is also able to receive tax deductible bequests for Estate Tax purposes. Donations to any of our scholorships and Grants are totally tax deductable here in the United States. 100% of all Scholarship and Grant donations are used for those purposes. Specimens donated for our annual auction and for the youth programs may also be deductable, but you need to check with your tax and estate planner


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