Last update: December 2013
I am often asked for tips on collecting localities and more-so about whether or not a permit is required. I have broken down the rules for the US here, and started to add other countries as I dig up the details. All of this information will pertain to noncommercial (scientific) use only. Please comment if you notice any inaccuracies or have any additions or suggestions. I am attempting to consolidate this information, not provide an infallible resource. Do not rely solely on my advice because this information is subject to change, you should always call ahead and make contacts in that country before you swing a net.
Acquiring permission to legally collect is critical and should not be ignored. If you are building a collection in hopes of donating it to a museum one day, this is a detail you can not avoid. Most institutions require evidence that all of your specimens were obtained legally. Illegal collecting will also eventually put you on the radar of the USFWS and may result in fines, confiscations and possibly jail time if you really flaunt the law. Illegal (or sometimes even legal!) collecting in other countries can easily land you in jail – we have all heard the horror stories.
USA: Here is a list of federally protected species. Many states also have additional state protected species that are illegal to collect. I have not been able to find a comprehensive list, but each state’s wildlife department will have a list which you should check before collecting.
- Private Land: Permission granted by landowner.
- Public Lands/BLM: Permit usually not required. Most BLM property is governed by the Wilderness Act of 1964 which (with recent updates) has separated scientific from “casual” non-commercial collecting. Under Section 6302.15 “You may remove or disturb natural resources for non-commercial purposes in wilderness areas”. So, collecting is permitted as long as it remains non-commercial, maintains the wilderness environment and is not previously restricted. Insects are never mentioned but the regulation is vague. Areas designated as “Special Areas”, such as National Monuments, Research Natural Areas or Wilderness usually do require permits. It seems like there is a lot of leeway given to whomever is interpreting the law at the moment. If you are unsure, contact the local BLM (Bureau of Land Management) office and ask.
- National Forests: No permit required for recreational collecting. All forests and grasslands are completely free range for collectors. Keep in mind that rangers still do have the authority to close an area and ask you to leave, but this has never been my experience. You should always call ahead and ask if you are unfamiliar with the area. I also always carry a copy of the NFS letter to collectors just in case, download the new 2011 letter to collectors, and the original USFWS Collecting Letter here (.pdf). Wilderness areas within forests are often closed to collecting, but ask ahead. One strange rule that the NFS does have is that all scientific collecting requires a permit. I assume they want to know about official research being conducted in their parks, but this line can be really fuzzy in my opinion. I have gone on recreational collecting trips and discovered something that ends up in a publication. Since the majority of my collecting is personally funded, I go ahead and assume it is recreational.
- State Parks: Permit required in most states. The only current exceptions that I know of are Michigan (thank you HDK) and Oklahoma, where they don’t care about collecting. Some states will allow recreational collecting at the discretion of the park ranger, and you just have to call ahead and ask or show up with cookies. More often than not a permit will be required. This process hasn’t been too difficult in my experiences in IL or CA, and there are no wacky rules about specimen ownership and getting state-wide access is possible. Having an institutional affiliation may be very helpful, but not required (each state is different I’m sure). Applying for state permits has been a fast process in my experience, usually taking only a few weeks for approval.
- Nature Preserves: Permit required. Many states have designated nature preserves or reserves and they are often governed by a separate entity from state parks. The Nature Preserve Commission in Illinois requires a separate permit for every site you want to work in. It also takes them 60-90+ days for approval, plan ahead accordingly!
- National Wildlife Refuge: Permit required. All refuges are strictly off-limits without a permit, and rules regulating your impact while on the refuge are strict. Having a specific research target and institutional affiliation is required, along with detailed reports and specific institutions for deposition of specimens. Any specimens collected on a NWR will remain property of the reserve system for perpetuity, and any future research on these specimens must be accompanied by written approval by the refuge. That being said, more often than not those details are a technicality and not strictly enforced. Every experience I have had with a NWR has been a great one; they are always run by well-educated biologists who understand the nature of research and are eager to learn about your discoveries. They also tend to turn around a permit very quickly, I have never waited more than a week for approval.
- National Parks: Permit required. Obtaining a permit for a park is extremely difficult and time-consuming. Having never done it myself I do not know the full details, but there are many similarities to wildlife refuges. In the case of a NP absolutely all specimens have to be deposited into an institution and identified by a unique reference code. The NPS retains ownership and the right to call-back specimens if needed. There are also long lists of rules that must be followed while within the park, including staying out of sight of tourists. Permit approval can take many months if you are lucky. Really does not seem worth the hassle.
- National Monuments and Recreation Areas: Permit required. Usually governed by the National Park Service and therefore obtaining a permit is difficult and mired in bureaucratic red tape. However, some monuments are operated by the National Forest Service, BLM or other state agency – which means they are semi-autonomous and much more efficient. Call ahead and ask, each one is different.
- Land Trusts/Private Reserves: There are countless private land trusts that act as independent preserves and all have their own process for permits. The Nature Conservancy and Audubon Society are a few larger ones – but local communities and private foundations can even have their own. While they are not governed by state agencies they are usually very cooperative and easy to work with regarding research permits. Some trusts may require a state collecting permit before applying for theirs.
ANGUILLA: Info via Caribbean Research Resources (CRR).
ANTIGUA & BARBUDA: Info via CRR.
ARUBA: Info via CRR.
AUSTRALIA: Exceedingly difficult to obtain permits. Even with a permit, only a few representatives of each species you collect may leave the country.
BARBADOS: Info via CRR.
BELGIUM: Illegal to collect any federally listed species. Private land: no permits needed. Nature Reserves: permission often granted if you are collecting less well-known species. If you promise a list of everything you collect and avoid things like butterflies then you will probably be granted permission. Several of the large forests in the south will allow some day collecting but night access is restricted without permission. Ask nicely and promise a list of species collected. Here are links for permits in Flanders (north) and Wallonia (south).
BELIZE: Permits required for insect collecting and can take approximately 3+ months to process and cost $100USD. If you are requesting to work in any conservation area, you must provide detailed contact information for your collaborators – they will be contacted (once), and if they don’t respond, your application does not move forward. Expect to call regularly to check on your permit, and plan on spending a day in Belmopan to finalize the permit (or arrange to have a local collaborator take care of last minute details and payment). Application can be found here. (info via John Shuey, thank you!)
BOLIVIA: Apparently Bolivia has made it very difficult to conduct research within the last few years. The permitting process is very slow and can take 6 months or more, with no guarantee that the paperwork will come through in time. Additionally, submission of the export permit requires approval that usually requires that all of your insects be shipped out of the country after you depart. The export permit also requires all specimens to be identified to SPECIES, even if it’s Papilio sp. A, B, C… etc. An expedition by a large US Museum in 2007 ended with all collected specimens being left in Bolivia awaiting export permits. As of 2010, the specimens are still awaiting approval for shipment. But perhaps you could have better luck, try contacting the Museuo de Historia Natural.
Forget it. OK – it is possible to obtain research permits for this notoriously difficult country. Although fairly difficult to achieve, Brazilian researchers who are in possession of IBAMA permits may be able to include foreign researchers on their permit to cover specific collaborative research projects that involve collecting and export of specimens. Expect to work closely with potential collaborators during the application process, and plan on at least 9 months (or more) to move the many forms though many government offices.
CARIBBEAN ISLANDS: The Caribbean Research Resources website is incredibly helpful! I’ve broken down some of their specific information here with links to the CRR site.
CAYMAN ISLANDS: Info via CRR.
COLOMBIA: Sounds like they are making permits all but impossible to obtain with contracts needed and fees reaching nearly $10,000. This article discusses this new legislation that went into effect 28 December 2011.
COSTA RICA: Permits required. Costa Rica is a very environmentally conscious country and is very vigilant about its biological treasures. Because much of Latin America relies on hand-checked luggage your boxes of insects stand a high chance of being discovered, so do not risk it. Their rules are strict enough that they even confiscate tourist’s seashells. If you have a research project and institutional affiliation than obtaining a permit is easy. Plan your destinations ahead of time and figure out what provinces you will be focusing on. Each province in CR has a national branch that issues its own permits, which is spectacular because it speeds up the entire process and gives you a regional person to meet and talk to. All permits are granted through the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energia y Telecomunicaciones (MINAET). The local office is usually located within the regional national park, and most people speak broken english at worst. Permits for Guanacaste are linked to at the very bottom of this page, with corresponding contact emails listed. A standard project proposal, CV and basic information form is required for submission. Once approved you are issued the paperwork on site when you arrive and a “collecting passport”, which is literally a passport like book with your image that grants you access to your approved areas. The guy who issues you the permits will also help you fill out the export permit before you leave the country (pretty standard, list things as best you can to family if possible). All in all, a very well oiled system that operates very efficiently.
CROATIA: Collecting is banned but it is possible to get permit from The Croatian Natural History Museum (Hrvatski prirodoslovni muzej). (according to Zdenek in the comments)
CUBA: Travel to Cuba for US Citizens is restricted but IS permitted for professionals conducting research. Permits to travel there can be obtained via the Department of Treasure and this website. As far as collecting permits you should find a local scientist and contact them (and then bring me with you).
CZECH REPUBLIC: No permits required for non-protected lands or protected species (as per Natura-2000 + a few others). Permits are issued by Departments for Environment, Agriculture and Forestry under Regional Bureaus (Krajsky urad, Odbor zivotniho prostredi, zemedelstvi a lesnictvi), if you need to collect in protected areas, you should ask relevant Nature Conservation Agency (http://www.nature.cz). (thanks to commenter Zdenek)!
DOMINICA: Permits issued through the Forestry and Wildlife Division.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Permit required, but easy to obtain. There are standard application procedures, similar to Costa Rica. This is the page with application for research in protected areas (SAP-005 Form). Here is a very detailed guide for obtaining permits in the DR. It sounds like you will be able to hire Kelvin as a “consultant” who will help assure the permit process is completed. (This is not a paid endorsement, I have never used Kelvin’s services and can not vouch for him personally).
ECUADOR: Another difficult Latin American country to collect. Permits are all issued through the Ministerio del Ambiente. The entire system is fraught with infighting and red tape. But, permits can still be obtained if you make a contact within the Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Naturales. Ecuador has large problems with drug smuggling and they are preoccupied with more serious crimes than insect collecting, so once a permit is obtained, you will not be hassled. 50% of collected species must be deposited in the national collection before departing the country. A more detailed account of Ecuadorian permit issues here.
FIJI: Permit is only required for collecting on the national preserves, but most of the island is privately owned and landowner permission is needed. Export permit is required to leave the country and your insects must be inspected at a local biosecurity office before the permit is issued (one at the airport in Nadi). They briefly check to make sure everything is dead and there is no plant or soil contamination. There are also no legally protected species. (Information directly from the Fijian Dept. of Environment, relayed through Hollie’s comment below, thanks!)
FINLAND: Collecting permits only required for protected species and nature reserves. Export permits required. Make a contact at the Finnish Museum of Natural History or University of Helsinki and that person could help guide you through any permits required. The finns have a spectacular understanding of private land, where access is allowed without prior consent from the landowner. You can even collect and camp on private land provided you remain out of sight of the main home and you are clean and respectful. But don’t collect mushrooms, people can be very territorial over their mushroom rights. (See comment below from Juha).
FRANCE: No permits required, except within National Parks. France is very collector friendly, but as in many countries there are protected species to carefully avoid. (Thanks to Opequin for this info).
FRENCH GUIANA: Collecting is allowed in all areas outside of National Parks. There are also many collecting friendly tourist lodges that regularly host entomologists.
FRENCH WEST INDIES: As above, there are no permits required to collect on their Caribbean territories, excluding National Parks.
GERMANY: Complex. Light trapping is forbidden without permit, which needs to be purchased from a “Regierungspräsidium“. You should make contacts with a local museum who can help you with that process. Day collecting is generally OK outside of preserves. Check the protected species list here. (Thanks to nomihoudai on the insectnet forums for this info.)
GRENADA: Info via CRR.
GUADELOUPE: Info via CRR.
HUNGARY: Permits required for collecting on National Parks, Landscape Conservation Areas and simple Protected Natural Areas. Permits cost about 70 Euro. However, collecting outside of those areas is unregulated except for protected species (mainly butterflies), found here: PDF. (Thank you Koy Tóbiás)
INDIA: Forget it.
INDONESIA: Permits required and difficult to obtain. Permits go by the acronym “LIPI” are issued by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, but they have a great website for this entire process. I believe there is a strict quota per species, regardless of CITES status.
ITALY: Very collector friendly, permits required only for national parks – and in general like much of Europe there is a list of protected species that are off limits. (does anyone have that list?)
LUXEMBOURG: All trapping is prohibited (bait, light, etc.) Day collecting is allowed for Pieris, all other butterflies protected. Saturniidae, Sphingidae and Catocala species can not be collected. Permits can be obtained from the Ministry of the Environment, but are reserved for legitimate research projects. (Thanks to nomihoudai on the insectnet forums for this info.)
MALAYSIA: Permits are issued through the Wildlife Department, and it looks like an extensive process. Give at least six moths for approval.
MARTINIQUE: Info via CRR.
MEXICO: Very difficult. Permits are only granted to Mexican scientists and even collecting on private land without permit is illegal. Collecting in MX requires that you be added under a scientist who has a permit and will sponsor your research. Donating representatives of your collections back to that Mexican institution are also required. Further information is available here through the embassy.
NORWAY: Collecting permits required for protected land and permits usually issued only to researchers. There are 5 protected butterflies you must avoid, Parnassius apollo, P. mnemosyne, Plebejus argyrognomon, Scolitantides orion, and Coenonympha hero.
PANAMA: Information via the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
PUERTO RICO: All permits for PR and outlaying islands of Isla Mona, Culebra, Vieques, and Isla de Caja de Muertos are handled through the Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales. Once a permit is issued travel to the islands of Mona and Caja de Muertos can be arranged for FREE – contact Wendy Bonetta for further information (email@example.com). (via Caribbean Research Resources)
SAINT BARTHELEMY: Info via CRR.
SAINT KITTS & NEVIS: Info via CRR.
SLOVAKIA: Permits required for all areas, especially parks and preserves. Start with the Ministry of Environment.
SOLOMON ISLANDS: As of 2003 there is a total ban on the export of all wildlife. Scientific research is supposed to be allowed, but I am unaware of any permits issued.
SPAIN: All collecting prohibited in all areas without permits. Permits can be obtained through the Ministry of Environment, but each autonomous area requires their own permits. Additional species are protected, such as Graellsia isabellae, but specific lists should be acquired from the permitting agency before collecting begins.
SWITZERLAND: Permits (autorisation exceptionnelle) required for protected areas and/or protected species and vary within each Canton. A local branch of the “forest service” should be contacted before collecting (Service des Forets et du Paysage). Here is the form for collecting in Geneva and for Valais. (Thanks to Archie in the comments below)
TAIWAN: Collecting in unprotected areas allowed, but keep a safe distance from National Parks and be aware of protected species.
THAILAND: Collecting outside of protected areas allowed without permit. However, carefully avoid these protected species (and Actias rhodopneuma). Contact the Forest Protection Office for more details. This site also has some good tips.
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO: Info via CRR.
TURKS & CAICOS: Info via CRR.
UNITED KINGDOM: Similar to the USA, permits are required for land owned by the National Trust, Forestry Commisssion, National Parks, English Nature and local & national Nature Reserves. Public lands are free to collect on. And as in most countries, avoid protected species. (Thanks to Matt Smith for this info, see comments).
US VIRGIN ISLANDS: Permits required for the possession of “ANY indigenous island species”. However this website is vague and lists only birds, bats and fish as animals that require permits. As in a few US states insects may not legally count as animals and are not regulated. Try to contact the USFWS field offices before visiting and collecting. Export permits however would still be required. There are 4 US endangered insects and 3 endangered arachnids on the island.
Tvärminne Zoological Station, Finland