No, it is not legal to collect on government lands, and in all states of which I’m aware this applies not only to federal lands, but lands belonging to or controlled by any government entity. Some of the more obtuse in the collecting community insist on the ARPA exclusion of penalties for surface collecting, however this segment is decreasing every day and I would guess most are aware of the true nature of the situation.
I have been a collector for 30 years; my collection is very large. I could not put a number on it. All are photographed and indexed by location found, gigabytes of photos, maps, notes. 99.9% of it was collected either in cultivated fields or stream beds, all with landowner permission. In the last few years almost all are creek finds. I have never sold an artifact in my life. I have written literally scores of articles for collector publications, my knowledge of my small collecting area is exhaustive. My finds are virtually all non-contextual and all legal, yet I constantly hear about how these cultural materials “belong to us all” and I am destroying history, by legally removing non-contextual isolates from gravel bars. Bullshit. I was at one time very willing to cooperate with any professional who contacted me. I still correspond with a very select few about what I’m finding, but as far as viewing artifacts in person or any locational data, no. I advise any collector who asks to not loan any artifacts for study, you might have to fight to get them back, or they might come up missing. It has been proved to me that there is a significant segment of professionals that cannot be trusted, as there is sentiment in this segment that would like to see any and all collecting of artifacts ended, no matter where or how they were recovered, by any means possible. I do not need anything from the professional archaeological community. I can help you, and would be willing to, but not while I am under attack.
Stratified sites on government lands should be protected. But when I hear the professionals trying to shut us out of the non-contextual stuff, then I know we’re no longer about protecting the record, but about purely anti-collector “priveleged access”. The archaeological community decries (rightly) collectors digging on undisturbed sites, as they are destroying the information the site contained. Yet when an artifact erodes into a stream bed, or a site deflates on a lakeshore, hasn’t this destroyed, in the same way, the same information that the site digger destroyed? You can’t have it both ways, and the contortions professionals will go to to try to justify both positions is laughable. Some of the more sensible archaeologists can see where this is all heading, and they are absolutely right…in many areas of the country there is no cooperation whatsoever between the two groups. If that’s what the professional community wants, then keep going on the path you’re on, you are getting your wish, state by state, and both groups (and more importantly, the chance for added data) will lose.