Is Recreational Metal Detecting on the
By: Lee Wiese
Metal Detecting took form in the 1950-60s and the detectorists who were
metal detecting at that time had very few restrictions and the finds were
fabulous. Metal detecting during this period can be described similar to
being in the old west with open ranges and anything goes. The finds stories
from those in the hobby during that period are hard to believe against
today’s detecting results.
So is Metal detecting on the Endangered List?
Let’s take a look at the
barriers and variables that affect the hobby.
Barriers to Recreational Metal Detecting
Today, the U.S. metal detecting environment is controlled by a
hodgepodge of Federal, State, City, County laws. A major reason for this is
that there is no regulation, law or statue at the Federal level that
provides any support for recreational metal detecting.
Some of the Federal statues were written before metal detecting became a
popular hobby and since these acts were drafted to protect America’s
Heritage it may have been felt that users of a metal detector on federal
lands would rob America of some of its heritage. There were four major
federal acts drafted to protect America’s heritage and everyone (detectorist)
should read each of them. They are:
- 1906 American Antiquities Act act link
- 1966 National Historic Preservation Act, As amended in 2000 act link
- 1979 Archaeological Resources Protection Act act link
- 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act act link
The four acts indeed do protect Americas Heritage but at the same time limit
or in most situations make metal detecting an unlawful act. If someone is
caught metal detecting in National Parks, National Historical Sites,
National Monuments, National Recreational Areas, Native American Lands or on
archaeological sites the penalties can be severe. There are a few exceptions
where portions of Federal Forest Service and BLM lands allow metal detecting
if no archaeology sites are present.
During the past 35 years most, if not all, of the fifty states now have laws
modeled after the federal acts thus making many state lands unavailable to
metal detecting. Many states have also enacted specific metal detecting laws
that make it unlawful to detect, or may require special permits and
permission to metal detect state land areas. The result is that individual
state laws have direct impact and control over recreational metal detecting
in the 50 states. Of course this includes state parks, historical sites and
state archaeological sites. Usually metal detecting laws are very different
from state to state.
In more recent times counties, cities and school districts have also enacted
regulations that restrict, forbid or require a permit to metal detect. Each
year in the U.S. the list of cities, counties and school districts grows in
length as new restrictions are exacted against metal detecting.
The result is that more and more public lands are becoming unavailable to
recreational metal detecting. Plus some states are in the process of
enacting changes to their archaeology law which in the future may or will
impact the ability to metal detect on private lands without specific permits
The federal government has agencies or very large
departments that support the
various acts related to the preservation of America’s Heritage. All of these
agencies are fully staffed with professionals educated in their specific disciplines to protect and evaluate
America’s heritage and resources.
To compliment the Federal agencies are state agencies and departments which
are also staffed, but at lesser levels, to handle the same types of issues.
Counties and cities usually have staff in various departments responsible
for the oversight of the same American Heritage issues.
Currently you can find staffing at all levels of government that support
America’s Heritage. So it has become very difficult to get laws and
regulations passed, or just modified to support recreational metal
detecting. There are now many barriers and no one in the public sector is
interested or chartered in providing support for the hobby.
Variables that affect Recreational Metal Detecting
National Detecting Association.
In the U.S. there are no metal detecting
associations that truly represent the metal detecting hobby. Yes, there are
national associations in name but do they really represent the hobby at any
government level? No. Occasionally, after an incident occurs these
associations take up an issue. Therefore, they do take on small skirmishes
but the associations are not pro-active in working with government officials
just re-active to a given situation. The major reason for this is the lack
of funding, the volunteer staff, and the lack of strong hobbyist loyalty to
protect the hobby.
What might be the requirements for an association that truly can, could and
would represent metal detecting?
Three recognized U.S. National Detecting Associations are:
- a paid association staff
- vision, mission, strategies, tactical plans, commitment, and financial resources
- alliances with other hobby associations (Prospecting, Off Road, Gem & Rock Hounds, Bottle Collectors, Coin & Token Collectors and other like hobbies)
- recognition and support by detector companies
- strong support from U.S. clubs and individual detectorist
- involvement in governmental legislation
State Detecting Association.
- WWATS - World Wide Assn of Treasure Seekers
- FMDAC - Federation of Metal Detecting and Archaeology Clubs
- TFMDR - Task Force for Metal Detecting Rights
There is a vacuum in the U.S. when it comes to
state metal detecting associations. These associations could provide a great
deal of metal detecting support at the state level. Any state that has five
or more clubs should be represented by a state metal detecting association.
The primary role of this association would be to introduce state metal
detecting legislation, monitor other state legislation and provide direct
support to local clubs. Currently there are two state associations:
- Metal Detecting Association Of Washington
- Texas Council of Treasure Clubs
Each of these organizations would be a good model to emulate for setting up
new state association.
There are around 550 metal detecting clubs in the U.S. with
only a small number of these clubs being actively involved in their local community; far more clubs take
no leadership role in the support and protection of the hobby. Some large
clubs with good organizational structure and membership involvement do not
participate in any way at the national, state level, or in their community.
Generally, clubs do not even have a training program for new detectorist,
yet with the influx of new detectorists the need of such a program is very
Clubs are usually centered on internal club events. This is good for the
membership but in today’s environment these same clubs must dedicate people,
club time and resources to do much more to support the hobby.
With the retirement of the boomer generation the hobby will
experience many new detectorists. These new retirees are looking for an
experience that will provide exercise, enjoyment, a new challenge and
getting outdoors. This influx of adults into recreational metal detecting
may add to the endangerment of the hobby. Why is this? These new detector
hobbyists are not educated on the laws influencing metal detecting, the
responsibilities of the detectorist, the ethics, the proper recovery of a
target and how to detect without annoying people in their immediate area.
This lack of metal detecting knowledge can lead to damaging public and
private properties as well as the public’s image of the hobby. This in turn
may cause more lands to become off limits to metal detecting since public
officials will be quick to make metal detecting unlawful if complaints
There is also the issue of proper etiquette while metal detecting. Etiquette
encompasses the use of detecting ethics, the detectorist responsibilities
and displaying proper respect for others in one’s immediate metal detecting
Example: Proper beach detecting etiquette is extremely important by
Metal detecting etiquette will be a future mdhtalk article.
- keeping a wide distance or margin away from other beach goers
- not lifting your sand scoop up high and shake it when sand can be blown from the scoop onto people laying on the beach
- not metal detecting on the beach during the busiest times of the day
- always removing all metal trash from the beach
- etc, etc.
The term Responsible Metal Detecting can be
found in the Code of Practice on Responsible Metal Detecting in England and
web link to responsibilities
. However, the term Responsible
Metal Detecting in the U.S. is rarely used or defined. Below you will find
six major heading of an article on the responsibilities available on the
Responsible Metal Detecting is to:
- Know and Follow the Law
- Gain Permission
- Always Apply the Metal Detecting Code of Ethics
- Join a Metal Detecting Club and National Metal Detecting Association
- Understand the Potential Cultural Value of Your Find
- Volunteer Your Services to the Hobby
You will find more detail for each of these responsibilities at:
web link to article
Metal Detecting Ethics:
link to article
Night Hawking is metal detecting on public and private lands
under the cover of darkness. As there is an increasing effort to curb the
hobby by making more laws and greater enforcement of existing laws detectorist will out of desperation, turn to night hawking to detect and
remove those remaining good targets.
As the public becomes aware of metal detecting abuses such as night hawking,
public officials will be lobbied more and more by groups that support the
preservation of native American artifacts, historical sites and
archaeological resources. The result will be more restrictions and greater
enforcement against the hobby.
During the last ten years metal detector technology
has greatly improved by providing greater depth sensitivity, LCD displays,
target id technology, software control, and enhanced coil technology. The
detectors of today provide the user with the opportunity to detect targets
at greater and greater depths. This greater depth capability is a plus for
the hobbyist and can be a minus for the hobby. Putting this technology in
the hands of inexperienced hobbyist can lead to the destruction both public
and private land. This is because recovering targets that are much deeper
can result in creating wider and deeper holes in the turf to recover the
target. Without proper target recovery training these deeper target recovery
efforts can be disastrous to the turf and in turn to the public’s image of
The laws to protect the environment, the laws to protect animal
& marine species and laws to protect other archaeology resources will in the
future have a greater impact on beach detecting (fresh & salt water). On
salt water beaches during certain periods of the year you can find small
taped off areas to protect turtle eggs. In the future as more attention is
placed on protecting marine life you will probably see complete beaches and
coastal areas un-accessible for public activities.
Here is one example:
The California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), calls
for the creation of a science-based network of marine protected areas along
the state's coastline similar to national parks regulation on land.
web site link
There have also been numerous examples drafted to establish a National
Landscape Conservation Program to cover BLM lands. This type of legislation
could be similar to the national park regulations for outdoor use and be
very restrictive. This legislation would impact all outdoor hobbies not just
Fresh water beaches, lakes and streams are starting to be protected by
archaeology laws as the states rush to protect more of America’s Heritage.
In the future, these laws will become better defined and enforceable towards
fresh water beaches, adjacent water areas, lakes and streams and will most
likely make them un-accessible to metal detecting.
The U.S. wide environment for recreational metal detecting
during the past twenty-fives years has gotten much more restrictive and far
more restrictions are expected in the next twenty years. Take a look at the
- The “X” axis has key dates that concise with the four major federal acts plus today and the future.
- The “Y” axis represents how rapidly states, counties and cities have enacted laws and regulations supporting the federal acts.
- The red arc (line) from 1906 to the Future displays the rate at which public entities have adopted or created laws that indirectly or directly effect recreational metal detecting.
- High Impact Rate. This is the projected rate at which laws and regulations are enacted that
will make metal detecting unlawful, or require a permit, or permission.
- Graphic Disclaimer. This graphics is based on the analysis of the federal acts, state laws, and the review of many county and city regulations. The percentages are a bit of a guess when it comes to the level of law enacted in each entity (states, counties, cities) however the error factor is probably relatively small.
In summary the graphic is an interpretation of the previous discussed on the
barriers to metal detecting and the variable that effect metal detecting as
represented by the opinion of this author.
As laws and regulations continue to be enacted in more and more public
entities there is a lack of evidence that national detecting associations,
state detecting associations and detecting clubs have had any impact on
slowing down the generation of these laws and regulations.
With many more inexperience detectorists entering into the hobby and using
the greatly improved detector technology the issue is; there is no clear and
consisted way to educate them on the dos’ and don’ts of the hobby. Finally,
the future looks bleak when it comes to new environmental legislation that
may be passed and in turn could impact the hobby’s future.
By just looking at the time period from 1990 to today you can see that a
great deal of change is taking place in relationship to the laws and
regulations driven by the hobbies popularity and distrust of the hobby by
those in government. The expectation is that this curve will accelerate in
the next twenty years as the result of more regulation of the hobby. The
result will be that at some point metal detecting will probably
available on most lands in the U.S. So…..
: Is Recreational Metal Detecting on the Endangered List?
YES, one can find no evidences that the current trend rate will not continue to
go up and to the right on the graphic. Currently, there is nothing in the
works to change or diminish the metal detecting barriers or to alter the
metal detecting variables.
Next month there will be a follow-up article on some alternatives to aid the
hobby. If you have an opinion about this article, or a possible alternate
view, or a possible solution MDHTALK would like to hear from you.
You can email MDHTALK at: