British Columbia

Peace River region fossil finders want UBCM to push for better protections

Fossil finders in B.C.'s Peace River region are hoping the upcoming Union of B.C. Municipalities convention will help the province make a faster move towards specific legislation that will protect palaeontology sites and finds across the province.

B.C. only jurisdiction in North America without specific fossil legislation: Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation

A Tyrannosaurid track on display in Tumbler Ridge, which was probably a precursor to the T. Rex. Members of the Peace Region Paleontology Research Centre in Tumbler want better legislation to keep fossils in B.C. (Jim Kincaid)

It took five years to totally uncover the first complete or articulated dinosaur in B.C. — a hadrosaur or duck-billed dinosaur — found near the B.C.-Alberta border.

Part of the slowness was the worry that the site would be vandalized, or worse some of the fossils would be stolen.

Now members of the Peace Region Paleontology Research Centre are hoping the Union of B.C. Municipalities will endorse a motion at its upcoming convention that will push the provincial government further towards specific legislation that would keep fossils from leaving B.C. once discovered.

"So the application of what legislation there is right now has not really been effective in protecting the fossil resource," said Jim Kincaid, president of the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation.

"And we feel that the time has come. Particularly with the fact that B.C. is probably the only jurisdiction in North America that doesn't have some form of direct fossil protection legislation."

What B.C. has is a patchwork of legislation —  the Land Act, Heritage Conservation Act, and Mineral Tenure Act — designed to protect B.C. fossils and keep them here as part of the province's historical record.

"There's just a real lack of public awareness of the importance of these things and the need to protect them," says Jim Kincaid, president of the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation. (Eye For Detail Photography)

Kincaid argues that until the Peace Region centre was opened in 2003, many finds, once discovered, were scattered throughout other parts of Canada, the U.S. and Europe.

The other problem was recovering stolen fossils.

"The penalties and stuff are really not serious in a lot of those other pieces of legislation," Kincaid said.

The province is working on a fossil management framework, which "includes guidelines for the protection of significant fossil sites by using existing legislation that governs Crown land/heritage resources, and provides tools to protect and manage fossils and fossil sites," that will also implement other elements in future.

A hadrosaur limb on display at the Peace Region Paleontology Research Centre in Tumbler Ridge, which was the first full or articulated dinosaur to be discovered in B.C. (Jim Kincaid)

The hadrosaur was finally pulled out of the ground during the summer of 2013 and Kincaid says any changes to fossil rules here are coming far too slowly.

"With proper fossil protection legislation and a public awareness of the importance of it we would have a much easier time in recovering these fossils and protecting them," he said.

UBCM's notes on the motion in its resolutions and policy handbook says it has never considered a motion like this before and that the framework the province is developing along with existing legislation measures, "may lack the enforcement mechanisms required to address the sponsor's concerns regarding fossil protection and preservation."

The motion will be presented at the UBCM convention between September 28 and 30.