The United States Congress: Significant Ecological/Environmental Legislation

from the mid-19th to the early 21st Centuries

Of Interest to Archivists, Curators, and Librarians


1)      The Guano Islands Act of 1856 (48 USC 8 §§ 1411-1419) aka Congress’ Bird Poop Act

a.      Allows American citizens to take possession of islands

b.      Sense of entitlement, if US wants something?


2)      The General [or Hard-Rock] Mining Act of [10 May] 1872 (30 USC 21, 23, 27 et seq.)

a.      Combines Chaffee Act [Lode Law] of 1866 and Placer Act of 1870

b.      Uses various terminology: mining claim, claim staking,  placer claim including vein or lode; patented claims of $2.50 or 5 per acre

c.       Requires $100 labor or improvements even if no active mining (e.g., road with annual maintenance


3)      Lacey Act of 1900 (16 USC § 701, May 25, 1900) aka Congress’ Bird Bill

a.      Based on 1894 Act preserving Yellowstone National Park’s birds and animals; prohibited four non-native species: mongoose, fruit bats, English sparrows and starlings; “let us now give an example of wide conservation of what remains of the gifts of nature”

b.      Amendments of 1981 (16 USC 3371) includes “due care” when it comes to any imported wood products; includes fish for first time

c.       “Knowingly” rather than “willfully”


4)      Preservation of American Antiquities Act of [8 June] 1906, (16 USC 431-433; 34 Stat 225)

a.      Introduced by John F. Lacey (D-Iowa) due to vandalism; amended once

b.      Section 3: Permits for excavation needed on federal lands or use of federal funds

c.       Section 3: "Gatherings shall be made for permanent preservation in public museums.”

d.     Also, allows the President to use an EO “to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest;” only Congress can establish a national park.                                      


5)      Materials Act of 1947—30 USC 601

a.      As amended

b.      Section 601: “to take and remove, without charge, materials and resources

subject to this subchapter, for use other than for commercial or industrial purposes or resale.”



6)      Reservoir Salvage Act of 1960 (RSA)—16 USC 469

a.      “Vast quantities of archeological collections came into repositories in the 1960s and early 1970s because of this law”



7)      National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA)--16 USC 470

a.      Created National Register; section 106, requires consultation with Native Americans; section 110

b.      “This legislation is responsible for the majority of CRM [cultural resources management] work done today.”

c.       The “most used and intricate law relating to cultural resources,” according to Smith and Wobst (2005).

d.     Last amended in 2006; see also EO 13287, Preserve America, Section 3



8)      National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA)--42 USC §4321 et seq.

a.      Requires archeologist as part of EIS process; EA required.

b.      This law “is unique in that it acknowledges the fact that socio-cultural impacts are not just archeological, and that environmental and cultural impacts can go hand in hand.”


9)      Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 (FESA)--16 USC §§ 1531 et seq

a.      FESA defines species of concern (SC, former category 2 candidate), rare (R), threatened (TR), and fully protected


10)  Preservation of Historical and Archeological Data Act of 1974 (16 U.S.C. 469-469c)

a.      Amends 27 June 1960 Act (74 Stat 220)

b.      Directed agencies to notify Interior Secretary when a project “may cause loss or destruction of significant scientific, prehistoric or archaeologic data.


11)  Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA)—16 USC 470

a.      Amended four times

b.      This law requires a written agreement from a repository for curation before issuing a permit for an archeological investigation on federal or tribal land;” hence, identification of a receptive repository is essential, or simply fewer cultural objects will be collected in the field.


12)  Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA)-- 25 USC 3001

a.      Amendments of 1995

b.      Deals with collection inventorying (i.e., creation of inventories) and deaccessioning, “NAGPRA has forced many repositories to identify owners of objects and to repatriate items to appropriate tribes.”

c.       Gives burial and “bundles” protection; requires consultations

d.     Granting programs for collection care and rehabilitation


13)   Paleontological Resources Preservation under the Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009—16 USC 470aaa

a.      Permit required for collecting?


Note: President Richard Nixon created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on 2 December 1970 by issuing an Executive Order entitled “Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1970” as such the EPA administers the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA—also known as the "Superfund" Program), the Toxic Substances Control Act (TOSCA), and the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA). Also note that 36 CFR 79 applies to the PAA of 1906, RSA of 1960, the NHPA of 1966, and the ARPA of 1979 and requires written records, security, and inspections, so that more than 35 states have guidelines written by Society for Historical Archaeology while the Council for the Preservation of Anthropological Records (CoPAR) is working on increased access to written records. Data standards have been developed by the International Documentation Committee of the International Council of Museums (CIDOC).  It must be obvious that American archeology is a negotiated science these days.


SOURCES: If not otherwise cited, all quotations come from the US Fish & Wildlife Service or the NPS Archeology Program, if not from the cited law per se.



Updated: 30 March 2011.