Ranch Investor Podcast

What Are My Fossil Rights Worth?

September 14, 2022 Ranch Investors Season 3 Episode 9
What Are My Fossil Rights Worth?
Ranch Investor Podcast
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Ranch Investor Podcast
What Are My Fossil Rights Worth?
Sep 14, 2022 Season 3 Episode 9
Ranch Investors

How do fossil rights influence ranch land values? In this episode, Nate Murphy shares his experiences as a dinosaur excavator and fossil preparations expert. He contracts with private landowners to locate and excavate fossils. He then prepares the fossils in his lab in Billings MT – Dino Lab – for museums worldwide.

Nate Murphy became known as the “People’s Paleontologist”  in the 1990s. He discovered the world’s largest carnivorous dinosaur in Patagonia, South America. And when he found the best-preserved fossil in the world, Leonardo, he was featured in Newsweek, NationalGeographic.com, New York Times and the 2004 Guinness Book of Record. 

Show Notes Transcript

How do fossil rights influence ranch land values? In this episode, Nate Murphy shares his experiences as a dinosaur excavator and fossil preparations expert. He contracts with private landowners to locate and excavate fossils. He then prepares the fossils in his lab in Billings MT – Dino Lab – for museums worldwide.

Nate Murphy became known as the “People’s Paleontologist”  in the 1990s. He discovered the world’s largest carnivorous dinosaur in Patagonia, South America. And when he found the best-preserved fossil in the world, Leonardo, he was featured in Newsweek, NationalGeographic.com, New York Times and the 2004 Guinness Book of Record. 

Colter DeVries 00:00

I'm Colter Devries, owner of Ranch investor advisory and brokerage services. I'm an accredited land consultant with the realtor land Institute and a proud member of ASFMRA. 


The ranch investor podcast is the most downloaded and informative industry-specific content that intrigues while entertains.

Colter DeVries 00:22

Ranch investor podcast. We have Nate and Janet Murphy from the Dino lab. I was actually referred to you quite a few months ago through Kyle Fitch and then I was referred to you again through Bonnie who does some marketing here with Rebel River in Billings. That was exciting to get that referral because Andy and I have been talking a lot about the influence of fossil rights on ranch lands. Andy, if you were here, you'd probably argue. We actually don't see a positive influence, but it's a nice attribute to have people not buying ranches or paying a premium above market rate for the fossil rights, for the opportunity to speculate and be a wildcatter for fossils. This has become a huge interest given the discovery in Edgar, or I don't know if it was the discovery, but the sale of that specimen. I need to talk paleontology language now. I gotta start using words like specimen. That one in Edgar, Carbon County, Montana, I think that's a pretty rare area because it's not like all of Carbon County has fossil potential whereas it seems like correct me if I'm wrong, quite a bit of Garfield county and maybe Carter county Ekalaka has fossil potential and then you get into Choteau, Montana and Ten Sleep, Wyoming. Those are the areas I'm familiar with. And so we do have good data out there- good comps to show that there is value-added activity, but it's really not influencing ranch values. However, this is what's getting people excited. Tell me about some of these recent sales that's getting headlines in the news. 

Nate Murphy 02:28

Well, dinosaurs have been in the public's mind for a long time however, it's come to the attention of landowners now. I would say since 1997-98 when the Tyrannosaurus Rex known as Sue was auctioned off for, at that time the most money ever paid for a dinosaur, which was, I think somewhere around 7.8 million that went to the rancher in South Dakota. People started becoming aware of this. You gotta understand, Colter, that I'm from a generation and was trained by professional paleontologists that were used to having access to public and private lands and collecting whatever they want, whether it be on private land too, and slapping the landowner on the back and say, “You're a good old boy, thanks a lot.”, shake their hand and drive away with the fossils. Now, they adorn many of our national museums and even museums around the world. This is not a new phenomenon of North American dinosaurs being interesting to many other museums around the world. You gotta understand, there are politics involved with this from the scientific community. A lot of North American scientists don't believe they should have to pay for fossils. 

Colter DeVries 04:27

So, they believe it's a kind of public good?

Nate Murphy 04:30

Yeah, they do. And they've tried to influence Congress. Many times the society of Vertebrate Paleontology has lobbied to get the laws changed similar to what Alberta did in 1972. They passed a law where all fossils, whether they're invertebrates or vertebrates were the property of the province and that includes private land also. 5:06 [ But SVP, the society of rep paleontology first had max B carry the bill to Congress and it blew up 

Colter DeVries 05:19

To nationalize fossil rights.]?

Nate Murphy 05:21

Yes. And they've they want to do this.


Colter DeVries 05:26

Do you think it's a good idea? 

Nate Murphy 05:28

No, I think it's a horrible idea because of the fact that there are so few scientists or paleontologists around the world. They're more than there ever has, but there certainly is not enough to adequately be searching all of these Western exposures for fossils each year. If they're not harvested or collected, they explode and rot away. Who wins when we lose fossils like that? 

Colter DeVries 06:14

So it's a perishable item?

Nate Murphy 06:16

Oh, very with rain, snow, freezing, and fog. 

Colter DeVries 06:21

We need to market in capitalism to incentivize people to get out there and dig them before they perish though.

Nate Murphy 06:26

That's right. A lot of people don't realize, this is the thing that I've come up against over the years and this is 47 years of doing this, that a lot of the landowners here in the Rocky Mountain West have this misunderstanding that somehow the government has a say over those fossils on their lands. And I'm here to tell you that's never been true with one exception which is if the fossil bones have enough uranium in them to be hot, to be uranium grade. The state of Utah passed the law in 1955 with that caveat but other than that, it is a surface right. It goes along with sand, gravel, shale, and clay 

Colter DeVries 06:21

Bentonite too. It's a surface material in Montana. I think you and I were on the same side of that fight in Helena. 

Nate Murphy 06:26

Right. That could've been a big rabbit hole for us from a legislative standpoint if we actually put together standalone legislation or law protecting fossils as the Surface Right. However, what we did is we went and talked to the school of minds- Butte, a team of geologists assembled as a panel. What they saw was fossils are not minerals. By definition, a mineral can never have an organic beginning. So fossils are the remains of organisms. 

Colter DeVries 08:43

So, that would be the judicial standard?

Nate Murphy 08:45

Right. It's amazing that a lot of legal minds missed that. Even the 1872 act where a paleontologist tried to lay claim to some fossil bones down in Vernal, Utah, where the dinosaur national monument is. He tried to claim it like a mineral right and the district court in Pierre, South Dakota said that dinosaur bones are not minerals. About this big battle with the Murray family over fossils and how the previous landowner owned the mineral rights, the judge who initially decided the case in Yellowstone county caught it but the district judges in Seattle never heard of it. They did not do their own work. Now, what we did is we changed just a little sentence in our standing mining law here in the state. And by the way, other than Montana and Utah, we're the only states in the west that have fossil laws on the book now.

Colter DeVries  10:23

Well, give us that story of Murray because that is a huge case that was a Montana Supreme court case that needed to happen. Give us some background on the Murrays. Kyle Fitch, who I mentioned earlier, will get into the privatization and why there's a market around fossils. But let's start with the background of this Murray case, the Montana Supreme court. Listeners, don't get bogged down, and legalist, this is actually really exciting because it's precedent. It's about what happened in Montana, which was many years overdue, and there needed to be money- a lot of money. I think there were 20 million on the line. The previous landowner retained the mineral rights and sold the ranch to Murray's, and then Murray's had a private contractor on shares– a Digger agreement. Commercial collector, Clayton Clayton FIPs who's probably one of the biggest names out there, should have a discovery channel series. I'm sure he's been asked to, have some sort of reality TV series but Clayton is the character out there. He had this 20 million discovery, which was set by a market and that market is museums, but the competition there is you need two buyers to create a market and the competition's private collectors as well. Right? 

Nate Murphy 12:05

Well, not so much for the high-end fossils like the dueling dinosaurs found on the Murrays. Most high-end fossils end up being bought by museums. So very seldom they do go into the private collection. 

Colter DeVries  12:23

The high-end, the blockbuster ones, and the very unique dueling dinosaur are a fully intact Philosoraptor or fully intact T-Rex. The competition in that market is gonna be museums so let's say the Smithsonian is bidding against Montana state or the museum of the Rockies in Bozeman.

Nate Murphy 12:45

Well, depends on the museum. Some museums like the museum of the Rockies have a policy not to buy fossils. They expect them to be given, but not all public museums think that way. 

Colter DeVries  13:08

They're all gonna go out and solicit a benefactor though. They're gonna solicit the Koch brothers or Michael Bloomberg, whoever they have on their board for charitable contributions.

Nate Murphy 13:22

Well, for instance, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Sue, ultimately the winning bid was the Chicago field museum. What did they do? They went out and got Disney. 

Colter DeVries  13:38

They're gonna go solicit from benefactors who have created that cash from capitalism. They've created profits somewhere else so that it could go to maybe a public good such as this or maybe altruism, whatever the factor might be. But let's jump back to the Murray case. So we needed this to happen and correct me if I'm wrong, the Garfield county, Jordan Montana, big area, and the hell Creek formation. Maybe we need to give some background on what is the hell Creek formation. It's in several states, right?

Nate Murphy 14:14

Yes, North and South Dakota; and Montana. In Wyoming, they have the Lance formation, which is the same geologic formation. 

Colter DeVries  14:27

How many years are we talking about? What era? What type of specimens? What is this hell Creek formation? Because that seems to be where the money is at. 

Nate Murphy 14:14

Well, actually Montana has three or four different dinosaur-bearing formations here.

Colter DeVries  14:41

So what is a formation?

Nate Murphy 14:43

Well, it's a series of rocks that represent a certain time on this planet. We have Jurassic dinosaurs here. We have Cretaceous dinosaurs. The golden age of dinosaurs was the Triassic, the Jurassic, and the Cretaceous. Montana is rich in the Cretaceous and has a little bit of the Jurassic formation.

Colter DeVries  15:16

We're rich in the Cretaceous and that would be for us novice people that would be your trial bites. Is that right? 

Nate Murphy15:16

No, trial bites are way back way before dinosaurs. It's Marine. Whereas the hell Creek formation, the Judith river formation, and the two medicine formations are all Cretaceous formations that are dinosaur-bearing here. 

Colter DeVries  15:16

What do you find in the Cretaceous formation? 

Nate Murphy15:52

You find depends on the formation because they're all different ages of the Cretaceous. But the Hell Creek is again the one that's most well known and it has Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops, a group of duck build dinosaurs, some smaller dinosaurs, Pachycephalosaurus, and some smaller Raptors. There are about 14-15 different species of dinosaurs that come out of the Cretaceous Hell Creek formation here in Eastern Montana. The Judith river up near Havre and Malta is all along the Canadian border, the milk river that produces about 55 different species of dinosaurs. It's very prolific. Then, the two medicine over by Choteau cranks out about a dozen or so different types of dinosaurs. So Montana has been ground zero for almost 200 years for scientists, museums, and universities to come and collect fossils. A lot of them came off of private. 

Colter DeVries  17:27

Absolutely. It sounds like we need to incentivize entrepreneurs and specimen collectors. There is a developing market. Talking to Kyle Fitch, these are just rough numbers. He's like, “If I find a T-Rex tooth, that's about a thousand dollars an inch. If I find a Flossoraptor claw, that's 800 bucks an inch.”. Like there is an established market. You talked about the private traders.

These are not institutional-grade specimens, but there is absolutely an established market going on there. He's actually on Instagram selling these, working with you to clean them up. 

Nate Murphy 18:10

Yeah. He actually spent some time in our lab here in Billings and we kind of schooled in. He's a little different. He's working on a site on his ranch that has what we called microfossils. Most of them are not scientifically significant, but it would be different if Kyle was coming across partial animals and all that takes expertise to get that. 

Colter DeVries 18:43

It takes a big team to uncover that.

Nate Murphy 18:47

Well, not only getting it out of the ground, Colter but what, what do you do once you get it out of the ground? Having the lab facility to prepare the fossils, which represents about 80% of the total work is lab work,  and preparing the fossils so that a museum might appreciate them or an auction house might want to sell them. And so it's not what Kyle is doing. He's basically paying the bills. He really is. 

Colter DeVries 19:27

So backstory on that with the ranch investor podcast, we always talk about better ways to manage your land investment which is separate from your operating entity. Your operating entity could be anything. It could be dry land wheat, dry land hay, cattle, sheep, peas, lentils, and I'm kind of being specific to Montana here. In other areas, it could be sorghum, whatever your enterprise is. Long story short the Fitches are now in a three-year drought and grasshoppers thrive in drought because they do not like wet soggy grasses. So not only they did not have the moisture to produce grass, anything that was produced naturally, the grasshoppers came in and wiped it out. So the Fitches being neighbors to the Murrays had a tough decision to make. And then the hay prices were 300 bucks a ton, which is over double what the historical average is. So they did a cost-benefit analysis with the help of Ranching for Profit and said, “Look, what's the smart thing to do here?”,  and the smart thing for them was to liquidate the cow herd and lease out any grass they can, which for owner operators creates idle time. And what we like to see on ranch investors is monetize what you have. Go out and create the best profits you can from every attribute and enterprise you have on your resource, your land base, and your human base. So Kyle being a novice went out and started digging bones to pay the bills because they didn't have cows anymore. And what a great story that is. So I want to get back into the precedent. We brought the Murrays back in as neighbors and Clayton. So it wasn't an issue until something sold for 20 million, was it? 

Nate Murphy 18:47

No. And it wasn't that price. It was the fact that there was a lot of a haboob and publicity about the dueling dinosaurs that brought the family back that had sold the ranch to the Murrays and said, “Hey, we understand you have these great dinosaurs out there. Well, we think they're ours because it's a mineral right.”, and so that's where the battle began. The family that sold the ranch wasn't having very good luck with courts here in the state. That's why they took it out of the state.

Colter DeVries 22:31

And took it to a federal court. They had basically this previous family sold the ranch to the Murrays and retained the mineral rights, which are hydrocarbons predominantly. Then, when the publicity and the wealth were created from the dinosaur fossils, they said, “We better take a run at that. We could sure use a piece of that.”. They probably found an attorney who's like, “Yeah, I'll do it for 60%.”. 

Nate Murphy 23:03

They actually had five attorneys on their team.

Colter DeVries 23:09

Maybe they're up to 70%. The attorneys are like, “Whatever settlement you get from this, we're gonna get 70%.”. So it got escalated and Montana realized we need to establish precedent and we need to create rules around this.

Nate Murphy 23:24

Right. I've seen this coming for years. It's a kind of unspoken thing because lots of people didn't know about the previous rulings in the 1916 homesteaders act but it covers it too. But nobody looked back and that's what happened. Finally, it was brought to the bench that was rehearing the case again after the district court in Seattle and San Francisco made their decisions. That's when it was overturned at the same time we were working with the state to change the language on our mining laws to exclude fossils so it wouldn't be a mineral. Rather than doing standalone legislation, which would've been a bugger, we just tweaked a standing law to exclude fossils.

Colter DeVries 24:42

Do you see that helping your business that we keep it private and that a surface material? Now, more people will be working with the Dino Lab here in Billings with you, Nate, because if it's not nationalized– I mean, you have a business to operate out a profit and you need to create good customer service, good quality products, keep your people happy, respond to the market,  and what the collectors and institutions are demanding. 

Nate Murphy 25:18

Well, you gotta understand that this had a backstory to it. If it had gone the other way, Colter, it would've been a nightmare for all the museums that had collected out here.

Colter DeVries 25:31

Oh, they were all holding nationalized assets. So what was their position on it because they want donations in the future, they want the free asset going forward, but they're holding a bunch of potentially nationalized assets that are no longer theirs? What a catch-22 for them!

Nate Murphy 25:51

It was terrible. 

Colter DeVries 25:54

What position did they take on? 

Nate Murphy 25:56

They jumped on board for the first time.  They align themselves with commercial people because there's been this rub between academia and commercial collectors. In academia, they can't afford to buy fossils and the commercial people say, “Well, why don't you just get off your ass and get out there and raise some money like for a painting or Judy Garland's Ruby slippers that you pay millions of dollars for?”.  What's the difference? So, I'll tell you I am so glad and that's why I and others really worked hard to get this language right because I believe that it is a surface right for the landowner. No one has to worry about it now. The government has no say over the fossils on your land. That is your property and your asset. Do whatever you want to do with it and that's the law of our state. 

Colter DeVries 27:20

Well, I can tell that Nate is very passionate about this. It seems like this is more than just a Capitalistic free enterprise opportunity. Tell me about Nate's passion and how that plays into this him as a person, as an individual because this is beyond just carving a niche, his segment, his business. I mean, he's been doing it for 37 years and he's he's passion shows up here

Mrs. Murphy 27:54

Well, in the years that I've known him and met people from around the world who he's taken out on digs, excavated fossils, professionals, and scientists who have come to the lab for a visit, they all hold him in high regard. He knows what he's doing. He's honest, he's got a good reputation and a bunch of friends.

Colter DeVries 28:27

People are attracted to that experience. That level of knowledge and understanding that you just wake up and you put specimens in your coffee. You just love it.

Nate Murphy 28:38

Well, it's in my blood. I found my first dinosaur at the age of 10 in  Red Deer River, Alberta. I really want to see landowners benefit from this stuff. I can make a living and they can benefit from it because in a lot of cases, Colter, it's like money from heaven for a rancher to have something realized that can ensure their ranch for a long time. I think I shared with you the other day that a rancher that I've been working with for over 20 years now just sold some dinosaurs off of his property. Him and his wifenever expected to find anything like that of any kind of value.

They asked me what to do with the money and I said, “Well if it were me, I'd create a trust for the ranch that no longer would your kids or your grandkids- because it's a multi-generation ranch. You'll never have to worry about paying taxes, running a new fence, and buying equipment. It'll be there for you. That's what they've done. 

Colter DeVries 30:28

That could be very powerful for a multi-generational family operation farmer ranch to have a trust that might have a couple of million dollars in there creating dividends and interest returns that cover the Ranch's taxes and maybe some improvement costs annually. You're right. That is meaningful beyond just financial returns. It's meaningful because it keeps the local legacy, the local culture in place, and the family is stable. I agree with you. That could be heaven-sent for a lot of people. 

Nate Murphy 31:09

Right. For the clients that I work with, I have to trust them and they have to trust me because they can't see what I see and the potential. I'm giving up the time that's left in my life to work on their land and to develop a resource off of it. And so in the case of like this, I become family to them. I look at it as a full-blown partnership because I’m taking a resource off their land. It's amazing because of this recent sale, landowners have a huge tax benefit. Let's say I excavated a dinosaur on your ranch, take it out, market it, sell it, and I get part of the proceeds, what happens is that the US government will not gonna get you taxed like I'm gonna get taxed but for the rancher, it's a depletion from the ranch. 

Colter DeVries  32:50

It's like a depletion, depreciation ad amortization. You're bringing book value down to reduce your tax bases. Yeah, that's right. Okay. 

Nate Murphy 33:00 

So this ranching family is actually going to end up making more money because it's a write-off rather than capital gains. I

Colter DeVries 33:20

I like hearing that. 

Nate Murphy 33:21

Isn't that amazing? I just learned that because the rancher and I sat down with a very well-known CPA here in Yellowstone county. He said, “This is how it's worked, Nate. You're paying a lot more, but for the rancher, that's depletion and a write-off.”.

Colter DeVries 33:46

Well, let's talk about you. We've talked so much about the beautiful upside of this. Let's talk about the ugly. There are bone thieves out there, right? So my friends and part of my family's ranch is Edgar carbon county. Jim Taylor is our neighbor.

Nate Murphy 33:21
I know Jim very well. 

Colter DeVries 34:05

A longtime family friend. He was my banker and my parent's banker. The Taylors are just amazing people and he said, “A lot of people don't realize is once this leaks, once it gets out, you have opened up yourself to the potential of trespassers and thieves. I don't see that being common in Garfield county because you'd have to drive 40 miles on a dirt road to a location where you could be shot and buried without anyone finding out. But here in Carbon County, where Taylor's places, it's half an hour from Billings. So let's talk about the ugly sides. One other ugly side I could think of is not anyone can’t just jump into this. You can't just jump in and cut your teeth and I'm gonna be a prospector speculator, I'm gonna go out and lease a ranch in Chateau, Montana, or Ten Sleep Wyoming and I'm gonna cut a deal with the landowner 70 30. I get 70, he gets 30% of the takings of winnings. It is just not that easy. Is it Nate? 

Nate Murphy 35:15

No, it's not. There's a show on the Discovery channel called Dino Hunters. The guys approached me about doing it and I decided not to because they didn't want to do it right. They turned it into a big treasure hunt- a money hunt. Who they did find with the exception. They did go with Clayton. 

Colter DeVries  35:49

Oh, is he already on discovery?  

Nate Murphy  35:53

Yeah. But Clayton's done a good job on it. Well, they're also working with some knuckleheads done in Wyoming, and, these are a couple of gobblers sitting on an old beat-up sofa, drinking Bud Light, and going, Damn, we could do that too!”. The thing that’s bad is that if you don't know how to collect the stuff properly, you destroy it and where's your return on your investment? There isn't. So that's why you’re working with a reputable contractor that knows what they're doing. They do all the work and you get, like you said, 30%. That's pretty easy money.

Colter DeVries 36:55

What are the agreements out there? If I'm a landowner and, well, let's take my family's ranch in Edgar. We know that it's not part of that formation, but let's say we're right across the fence and someone approaches us with the expertise and they are reputable. We're ranchers. We're not gonna make good bone diggers. What are the normal agreements out there? How these things being structured? 

Nate Murphy   37:28

Well, I'll tell you that it depends on the contractor. To be honest with you,  I give more than anybody else- 30%. 

Colter DeVries 37:44

So that's like crop share or like dry land hay. If you hire a custom cutter to come in, cut, roll up, and stack your hay, I mean it’s negotiable around 70 30 depending on quality irrigation but that's very comparable to farming 70 30. 

Nate Murphy  38:07

Well, I think it's fair. A lot will give 10 to 12% and I think that's highway robbery. That's why in good conscience, I know what I can give to and still make a profit after all the work of not only finding the things and getting them out of the ground. That's not the work, man. It's the years in the lab. These dinosaurs that we just sold with this ranching family took me 12 years to prepare now. I'm finally getting a return on my investment and they've been patient enough. There's another reason why the ranching family insisted that we sell the dinosaurs to a public museum and not to a private collector, which I'll be honest with you, Colter, doesn't happen every day, but it sure was refreshing.

Colter DeVries 39:11

Well, and one thing talking about the ugly, going back to the good old days when it was, “I'll come digging bones, and a pat on the back. You made a donation to the museum of the Rockies. You've helped science. You've helped history. You've helped culture, Mr. Landowner rancher. Thank you.”. I've been told that a lot of the problem is too many contractors want donations that the specimen should be donated and that too many people are asking for the landowner to donate rather than profit.

Nate Murphy 39:50

Not from commercial collectors. I don't believe so. I think they're very much capitalists and they have to make a living.

Colter DeVries 40:02

Okay. So would it be like more of the university's or Jack Horner's group? 

Nate Murphy  40:10


Colter DeVries 40:11

They're gonna bring in a celebrity, a star like Jack Horner, and say, “By the way, Mr. Landowner, your name is gonna be in the New York museum. How does that sound? 

Nate Murphy 40:22

Yeah, I've heard all the lines. Over the years, I know Jack very well. We don't see eye to eye on this matter. He doesn't believe that anyone should sell a fossil. I've actually seen him berate landowners for even suggesting that they should sell a fossil when it's their property. 

Colter DeVries 41:00

Now you've just hit the nail on the head of private property rights. That's my business. That's my passion. It is their property. It is not a nationalized asset. I bring up Jack Horner, Nate and listeners. I think we all know that. I know very little about this. I was a kid when Jurassic park came out. It's funny talking to you that this industry is probably very small. You all probably know each other very well, and just like any trade group or market, is a very small niche market. There are some personalities and characters, and Jack Horner's one of them. He is one of the original celebrities and I think we're seeing Clayton Phipps now definitely. Nate, it sounds like you're one of the guys and one of the faces who's out there as kind of the image and the brand of what's going on. That's exciting to see, but  Jack is one of the originals. Jurassic park was kind of modeled after him, I believe. He's been in a lot of articles and obviously with Jurassic park being one of the most successful franchise movies out there. Jack has established a very big name for himself and his group. It's interesting to see that there are characters and politics involved and I love it. This is exciting. 

Nate Murphy 42:33

Right. There are again academics that are so anti-commercial but you look an academic in the eye if he's standing there saying,  “Go ahead and give us this resource off your land for free.”, and then you just ask him back, “Well, are you gonna feed my family?”. And so if, there are any of your listeners out there that have properties with dinosaur remains on it, feel free to contact us and we'd be happy to come and take a look and give you an honest assessment of what you have. If it's even worth looking at and not all just because you have dinosaurs on your property, you might have chunks and pieces. There's a lot of that here in Montana. 

Colter DeVries  43:40

So our listeners' call to action is very important, a free assessment of free opinion from a commercial professional because I get this with mineral rights. People will say, “Well, I have mineral rights, shouldn't that make my land worth more?”, and I say, “Well, is there a mineral development in this area? Well, no, but there could be in 40-50”. If there's no established development in this area, your mineral rights are not worth anything yet. You might be able to find someone to lease them out for a dollar an acre on a 15-year agreement. What good does that do? So unless there is established development already happening, people need a professional opinion and that's exciting that you offer that for free. 

Nate Murphy  44:29 

Yeah. There's a lot of stuff out there each year, weathering out after the spring snows, and all. The badlands out in Eastern Montana are roading at a rate where grass can't even take. So you never know what you're gonna find each year, but again, I've heard so many cowboys tell me, that they know there are bones in their place. They've been there for years. Well, they probably aren't there anymore because they've weathered away. 

Colter DeVries 45:14

So time is of the essence and if you're a landowner, you're not getting any younger.

Nate Murphy 45:20

And you're not making any money on that assets. 

Colter DeVries 45:28

What other call to action? Kind of what I've been hearing from you is that it's a fine line. It's a balance between we'd like to see more people get involved. We'd like to see more interest brought to this industry in what you're doing. At the same time with a growing industry, there’s a booming. When there's money to be made, there come bad actors. There come thieves. So it sounds like we do need more people getting involved, but we also need the right people. And I think your call to action would be, “Let's get some genuine people with integrity out there. Let's get landowners thinking about, ‘Hey, I can make a little extra money.’. Let's get the right people in here. Let's get professionals out here.”. 

Nate Murphy 46:15

That's right. You know, Colter, a lot of people don't realize that when you find a substantial scientifically significant specimen, just digging it up doesn't make it as valuable. It's how it's excavated and all the data from the site is collected and recorded properly because that goes all the geology- sedimentology. All of that has to go together as a package with that specimen. That's how you garner the most value out of your fossil. A guy deciding he wants to go out and just collect fossils, he's not gonna be able to provide that for you and get the most out of your asset. 

Colter DeVries 47;14

Well, so much goes into the marketing. As Kyle was telling me, just finding the Raptor claw or the T-Rex tooth, that's just the easy part. That's the beginning because then he takes it to your lab. You have highly specialized equipment to sand, polish, fill in the cracks and glue it to make sure that it is marketable. It's a product. It's a specimen that people will see and desire that your market and you know how to market their specimens. That makes me think of a story. Pablo Picasso was sitting in a cafe with his coffee and his napkin, doing a sketch. He was doing art on his napkin and a lady was watching him and she knew it was Pablo Picasso. He went to throw it away. When he was done with it sitting and having his coffee, she said, “Well, can I have that if you're gonna just throw it away?” and he said, “Yeah, how does $20,000 sound?”. She goes, “No, you worked on it for 30 minutes and you were gonna throw it away. I've been watching you the whole time. It's 30 minutes. I'm not paying 20,000.” and he goes, “No, ma'am. I've been working on this for 25 years.”. 

Nate Murphy 48:45 

What Kyle's doing, Colter, is totally different than what we offer, because he can handle those smaller pieces and you can put them on eBay and sell them. But if you've got a triceratop skull or a part of an animal or a complete animal, well, that's a totally different.

Colter DeVries 49:11

For sure. You're selling. You're so well established in your market, your clients, your contacts, and your sphere of influence. You are the guy who can help market a 40 million specimen.

That's you. Kyle is he's starting at the bottom and working his way up. 

Nate Murphy 49:35

He's paying his bills. 

Colter DeVries 49:37

He was an amateur who's now becoming more professional. He's not at the 40 million mark like you are but it's a starting point, right? You're the guy that if I found a fully intact triceratops, you're the guy that you're the expert for that.

Nate Murphy 49:58

That's what we do. We bring him back alive.

Mrs. Murphy 50:03

The difference between Nate and Kyle is Nate's like the auto parts store and Nate's like the car dealership. It's all part of the same thing but different scale. 

Nate Murphy 50:15

But I'll tell you, Kyle's a great kid, man. I only met him once and he spent three hours in our lab. He's sharp.

Colter DeVries 50:30

Thirst for knowledge. And that's the type of rancher who's out there and says, “I’m gonna do what's financially best for this situation.” That pretty amazing.They take a critical look at things and you can just tell that he researched this. Should we call it a recreational market with what he's doing with the small specimens? 

Nate Murphy 50:54

Private collector. Yeah. 

Colter DeVries 50:55

He researched the hell out of it and it works for him. 

Nate Murphy 50:58

He can turn those fossils pretty fast because he doesn't have to invest in large things. 

Colter DeVries 51:08

Yeah. The highly specialized equipment that you have and  the team to go flag and dig up. I mean, I can't imagine the amount of hours and meticulous documentation that goes into surveying off the area. I mean, you're flagging. It is just amazing the amount of skilled specialty that goes into recovering. 

Nate Murphy 51:35

Yeah. I like to call it Dino CSI because we treat it like an excavation. A quarry is like a crime scene. Everything is mapped and measured because once the body's moved, it's out of context and you can't go back.

Colter DeVries 51:54

I think my listeners are dying to know- the ranch investor podcast.  If you had a thesis where you needed $20 million worth of investment to go out and buy ranches and you had a benefactor who said, “All right, I'm gonna back you a 20 million”, where are the ranches you're looking? Where would you buy because there are formation specimens all over the US? Since researching you, the Google algorithm know that I'm looking up dinosaur bones and they start feeding me articles relative to what my interest in that second because  it changes every second and the algorithm picks that up. So they fed me an article that a fisherman found a giant sloth skull in West Virginia and  there's gonna be specimens all over the US. I'm sure the markets are changing people. What’s in vogue 20 years ago might not be in vogue today. As to what's bringing the high price at these auctions that's ever shifting and changing. So with your foresight on consumer taste and preferences? What's being demanded? Where it's available? Where the potential for the 50 million home run is? Where would you buy? Where would you go looking for ranches? 

Nate Murphy 53:29

Well, do you want a specific area? This is only for fossil. It’ll be a good investment all around. We gotta have some grazing.

Colter DeVries 54:02

Now you're talking our language.

Nate Murphy  54:03

Well, I'm going to lease that lane like grazing  to cover some of the cost of–

Colter DeVries 54:12

Now you're thinking. Did you grow up on a farming ranch?  

Nate Murphy  54:15

No, but I've worked with so many farmers and ranchers over the years. I love talking with them because these are hardworking people. They've got a grit that is totally different. I've heard colleagues at conventions back east that said they can't get anywhere with those people and I go to take the time to just ask them how they're doing and how's the weather been. That's why a lot of them don't get anywhere with a lot of ranchers when they drive up on them because they just they can't relate to their way of life. I mean, I've helped brand.

Colter DeVries 55:11

I like that you're looking for a well-balanced ranch with the upside potential of a $40 million dig.

Nate Murphy 55:20

I would say probably the big dry arm area. Part of the west side of the big dry arm on Fort Peck is I think Garfield county and then on the east side is McCone. Those are good areas. 

Colter DeVries 55:48

So between Jordan and circle Montana north on the south side of the Fort peck reservoir. 

Nate Murphy 55:56

Yeah. That's a good spot. 

Colter DeVries 55:59

There might be some Binion money buried out there as well. Is that what you're after?

Nate Murphy  56:03

No,  that's not even on my radar.  Probably the milk river above Rudyard along there Kremlin. Those would be good areas. 

Colter DeVries  56:26

I assume that there's dinosaurs where we brought up Utah. There's gotta be some in Colorado. There's 10 sleep Wyoming, which is a beautiful area to live. 


Montana is where my heart is. I've found some great dinosaurs in Montana. 

Colter DeVries 56:46

So are we talking about people or specimens? 

Nate Murphy  56:50

Specimens but I know some great dinosaurs.

Colter DeVries 56:58

Yeah. I sure appreciate the dinosaurs out there too. Well, we're coming up towards the end of this podcast. It goes quick. Doesn't it? I sure appreciate you coming on. How can people look at what you're selling or services? How can they learn more about Dino lab and you?

Nate Murphy 57:19

Well, we have a website. It's Montanadinosaurdigs.com and we have a lab facility here in Billings so  property owner could set up an appointment to come and look at our facility, see the kind of work we do, just sit down and get to know us. Janet makes great coffee and I like knowing my clients before I get married.

Colter DeVries  57:58

Absolutely. So other call to action that I would like to bring up is, do you think people should just go check it out because I know a trip advisor. Around maybe Glen dive, Montana or Jordan. You can just go book you and your kids and your family. You can go on an adventure and you can go watch a dig. Do you think people should just experience that and go check it out on Airbnb, adventures or trip advisor? 

Nate Murphy 58:29

Yeah. There's opportunities even down at Thermopolis at the Wyoming dinosaur center. You can go in and dig for a half a day. I run digs two weeks a year. I've been doing the digs for 30 years now for the public.

Colter DeVries  58:50

About what time of year is that? 

Nate Murphy 58:51

In July

Colter DeVries 58:53

So people can plan a family vacation around. Kids love it, I'm sure. 

Nate Murphy 58:57

Well, I don't allow. Mine are six day programs camp out. This is real extensive. It is where the rubber meets the road. A lot of people that come on it are young people or teenagers that are thinking that they wanna make a career of this.

Colter DeVries 59:18

So that's not for my two year old and my wife.

Nate Murphy 59:23

Two year-old lacks the patience. I'm not gonna put a two year old anywhere near.

Colter DeVries 59:32

She'll put the bone in her mouth.

Nate Murphy 59:34

There you go. That's what a geologist does. 

Colter DeVries 59:38

So this is for people who wanna be professionals and study it even academics who want to go into college.

Nate Murphy 59:59

For  over the 30 years, we've produced 13 PhDs out of our programs, 29 masters and a whole bunch of BAs. I can't teach enough in one day or six hours that's why I make the commitment to coming out for a whole week spending in a tent. And I've saved some parents a lot of money because they're kids that thought they wanted to be a paleontologist found out it was nothing that they saw on the Discovery channel.  

Colter DeVries 1:00:32

For those who are just tourists, like my wife, a two year-old and I, there are those day trips out there probably great to get that experience. It's an adventure. Thermopolis Ten Sleep, Glen of Jordan, Montana, and  probably South Dakota has some day trips but also museums. I mean, you founded a museum didn't you? Montana and Wyoming have lots of dinosaur museums. Tell me about some of those. 

Nate Murphy 1:01:02

Well, Montana has the Montana dinosaur trail and there's a strain. It's a loop around the state of about 500 miles. It's a great tour. You have your prehistoric passport book for your kids and at every stop they get stamped their passport. Montana has some wonderful community museums that have worked their tail off to put some world class specimens on exhibit there. 

Colter DeVries 1:01:42

Well, Nate, as I wrap this up, me being a staunch advocate for private property rights, individualism, capitalism and free markets. I just want to thank you for defending those and for doing it in a way that you are benefiting others through your advocacy and your work. You're a leader by example. So for everyone who values private property rights. Thank you. We appreciate that. 

Nate Murphy  1:02:16

That's great. I believe that science can win, the landowner can win and I can make a living. 

Colter DeVries 1:02:21

That's what it's about. Well, thank you for coming on. I look forward. I hope people give you a call. 


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