Legislature taps UO museum as state’s official home for fossils

Fossil exhibit

Oregon fossils are now assured an Oregon home with the passage of a new law that makes the UO’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History the state’s official repository for publicly owned paleontological collections.

Fossil fishThe law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, will offer a safe, long-term home for Oregon fossils and other paleontological materials, keeping them available for ongoing education and research in the state. It will also allow the museum to better attract orphaned collections and make it more competitive when it comes to adopting Oregon specimens that are of interest to other museums.

While the Oregon Legislature established the Oregon State Museum of Anthropology in 1935, making the museum the official repository of publicly owned archaeological and ethnographic collections, until now no parallel legislation has existed with regard to Oregon’s fossils and other paleontological materials.

“Historically, state collections could be and often were transferred to out-of-state institutions, where they would be difficult or impossible for Oregonians to access,” said Greg Retallack, director of the museum’s Condon Collection of Fossils. “This legislation helps Oregon fossils stay right here in Oregon.”

Geologist Thomas Condon brought his collection of 3,440 specimens to the UO in 1876. The collection now comprises nearly 100,000 curated specimens, including fossils, rocks, minerals and biological materials.

Retallack said that the new designation is fitting given the museum’s accreditation in 2016 by the American Alliance of Museums.

“Having met the highest national standards for collections stewardship, the museum has demonstrated its unwavering commitment to preserving our natural history,” he said. “The new law recognizes that commitment.”

Retallack, along with fossil collections manager Edward Davis and state rep. Julie Fahey, a Democrat representing west Eugene and Junction City in House District 14, testified before legislative committees to support the passage of the bill. It was sponsored by Fahey, Rep. Nancy Nathanson, D-Eugene, and Phil Barnhart, D-Central Lane and Linn counties.

The bill passed unanimously through both houses of the Legislature and has been signed by Gov. Kate Brown.

“We are deeply grateful to the Oregon State Legislature — and especially to Reps. Fahey, Nathanson and Barnhart — for the passage of this bill,” said Jon Erlandson, the UO’s Philip H. Knight Professor of Arts and Sciences and executive director of the museum. “It’s an important recognition of the immense value of Oregon’s fossil heritage and it greatly bolsters the University of Oregon’s status as the state’s premier paleontological research university.”

—By Kristin Strommer, Museum of Natural and Cultural History