Collection and Use

Jurisdiction for Fossil Management

Prior to 2005, fossils were considered to be included in the definition of “mineral” for the purposes of the Mineral Tenure Act, and subject to the provincial regime governing subsurface rights. In 2005, the Mineral Definition Modification Regulation (BC Reg. 5/2005) under the Mineral Tenure Act, excluded fossils from the definition of “mineral” under the Act.

The Mineral Definition Modification Regulation provides that the term “mineral” does not include fossils and that fossils do not include limestone, dolomite, coal, petroleum or natural gas. The regulation does not affect existing mining operations, but prevents rights to fossils from being acquired by new mineral claims. 

The result of this amendment was to make fossils a resource that is administered under the Land Act (except those fossils subject to titles issued before January 12, 2005) and to ensure that limestone, dolomite, coal, petroleum and natural gas remain subject to the Mineral Tenure Act, Coal Act or Petroleum and Natural Gas Act, as applicable.

In those instances, when the tenure holders encounter fossils during road construction, development activities or during exploration work, they are asked to report their findings (see section on reporting fossil discoveries for more details).

Land administered by the Park Act, the Ecological Reserve Act, the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act, the Wildlife Act and the Environmental and Land Use Act has different legislative requirements with associated policies and procedures.

Various authorities and ministries also play a role in protecting fossils and fossil sites.

Fossil Ownership

In general, fossils on Crown land are the property of the Province and they remain Provincial property if they have been removed from the Crown land without authorization. In addition, in some cases fossils located on privately owned land also remain the property of the Province because of the reservations and exceptions attached to the original Crown grant.

Fossil Collection and Use

Provincial approval is required to collect fossils from Crown land. Fossils found on land administered by the Park Act, Ecological Reserve Act or Protected Areas of British Columbia Act, are under the authority of the Ministry of Environment. Where fossils are found on other Crown land the applicable authority is the Land Act. In the latter case, a number of categories of use are possible:

  • Amateur collecting
  • Research and scientific collection
  • Commercial use

As identified in the fossil management principles, the priority order for fossil management is science, heritage and education, and where appropriate, commercial. This priority order must be considered for any proposed fossil use and is effected through the expert paleontological review of applications. 

Amateur collecting

Amateur collectors bring many important discoveries to the attention of professional paleontologists. The contribution of amateur collectors is becoming increasingly important for scientific discovery as the number of professional paleontologists in the field decreases.

Recreational or amateur collecting is restricted to the collection of small amounts of the types of fossils that are common at the site. When unusual or rare specimens are discovered or when small quantities of fossils are present at a site, amateur collectors are encouraged to assist by reporting the findings to determine if they are significant.

Under the Ministry of Lands, Parks and Housing Act, the Minister has the authority to grant a general permission to the public to collect fossils, and to affix terms and conditions to that permission. Until the Minister’s formal permission is provided, minor collecting may continue as long as the amounts are small, the fossils are common at the site, the fossils are kept for personal use, and are not sold, or removed from B.C.

Exceptions to this general permission to collect fossils from the surface are where the land is in a park or protected area, or where exclusive rights have been issued to another party.

The Crown retains ownership of fossils collected by amateur collectors. Amateur collectors may retain possession of the fossils as long as they do not sell them or export them from the Province without permission. 

The permission to collect for recreational purposes does not apply to the removal of vertebrate skeletal fossils or fossil tracks.  The removal of these fossils must be undertaken by a qualified person holding a research permit.

Guidelines will be developed and made publicly available to assist amateur collectors in following the guidelines relating to quantity and type of fossils that are allowed to be gathered.

Research and scientific collection

Permits can be issued pursuant to the Land Act (s.14) for the collection of fossils for scientific study, to institutions such as museums and universities.  

Commercial use

The fossil management principle ensuring that science, heritage and education have highest priority must be satisfied before consideration is given to commercial use of fossils or fossil sites.

Non-extractive commercial uses, such as guided adventure tourism, may be a suitable activity in specific circumstances as their potential to educate the public on the scientific and educational value of fossils is high with a corresponding low impact on the resource. 

Commercial collecting is rarely allowed in other jurisdictions that have fossil legislation and, if so, is done under permits containing restrictive conditions and often confined to common specimens not considered to be of scientific, heritage or educational importance. 

At this time, applications for commercial fossil use in BC will not be considered until appropriate policy is in place.