The protection of fossil sites may be considered where it is demonstrated that the sites are scientifically significant or are threatened by exploitation or development. A paleontological assessment will be required to evaluate the scientific importance of the fossils, the uniqueness of the fossil sites proposed for protection and their physical extent (metes and bounds, GPS coordinates, etc.). This may be undertaken by a proponent or as otherwise agreed by government and/or interested parties.
Some sites may not require the exclusion of all other uses, but warrant enhanced or special management to conserve, or optimize the use of, the fossil values on the site.
Existing mechanisms to protect fossil sites
The Land Act is a flexible statute which can be used to protect public interests in Crown land through reservations or through designations for the conservation of natural or heritage resources.
- Land Act: Reserves (Sections 15, 16 or 17)
- Section 15 reserve: Crown land may be reserved from disposition under this Act for any purpose that the Lieutenant Governor in Council considers advisable in the public interest, including for the use of a government body.
- Section 16 withdrawal from disposition: The minister may temporarily withdraw Crown land from disposition under this Act for any purpose the minister considers advisable in the public interest, including for the use of a government body.
- Section 17 conditional withdrawal: The minister may, if the minister considers it advisable in the public interest, designate a portion of Crown land for a particular use or for the conservation of natural or heritage resources.
- Land Act Prohibition (section 66): Lieutenant Governor in Council (1) can by regulation prohibit a specific use of Crown land in a designated area. (2) A person who uses Crown land in a designated area in a manner prohibited under subsection (1) commits an offence.
A number of existing mechanisms are also available to protect fossil sites. Examples are:
- heritage designations using the Heritage Conservation Act;
- absolute or conditional reserves using the Mineral Tenure Act;
- ecological reserves (to protect geological phenomena) using the Ecological Reserve Act;
- land designation (to protect geological phenomena) using the Environment and Land Use Act;
- sites are protected when located within the boundary of a provincial park (Park Act).
Protected fossil sites
A number of significant fossil sites in BC have already been protected.
Burgess Shale in Yoho National Park - In 1909, Charles Walcott, paleontologist and Secretary to the Smithsonian Institution, discovered a fossil site, now known as the Burgess Shale. The Cambrian-aged fossils are a legacy that draws many visitors to Yoho National Park each year. In recognition of the unique and well preserved fossils of soft-bodied marine organisms, the Burgess Shale was identified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1981.
Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park - Driftwood Canyon is recognized as one of the world’s most significant fossil beds. This park was created in 1967 to protect the fossil beds on the east side of Driftwood Creek. The beds were discovered around the turn of the century. Preserved within the shale formations are plant, animal and insect species that inhabited the area 50 million years ago.
Fossils qualify under the Heritage Conservation Act as items having “heritage value” because of their scientific and educational worth. The Act only provides protection and regulation for fossils or fossil sites when they are designated as Provincial Heritage Objects or Sites under the Act. Two fossil sites in the Peace River area were designated in the 1930s and one site was designated on Vancouver Island in 1989.
The Ministry of Energy and Mines cooperates with the British Columbia Paleontological Alliance (BCPA) to protect fossil sites. Ministry of Energy and Mines either places conditional reserves over sites that prevent the staking of mineral claims or allows the mineral claims as long as the claim holder does not obstruct, endanger or interfere with the fossil site or significant fossil materials.
A review of fossil management in other jurisdictions with recommendations for British Columbia was completed in November 2004. Click here to view the report.
Elisabeth Deom Eldridge
Land Policy Analyst
Land Tenures Branch