Collection and use

Fossils are part of the land’s natural heritage and are irreplaceable and non-renewable. Fossil finds reported by the public can lead to important scientific discoveries. Recreational collection of common fossils on the land surface is allowed; however, collectors serve as caretakers, not owners, of the fossil.

Last updated: March 19, 2021

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Fossil ownership

Under the Land Act, fossils on Crown land are part of the land. Unless fossils are specifically under administration of another minister, branch or agency of government, they are administered by the minister responsible for the Land Act.

Reporting fossil discoveries

Industrial operations and recreational collectors can make important fossil discoveries. Members of the public who discover fossils are asked to report the discovery to the BC Fossil Management Office, Royal BC Museum or local museum.

Guidelines for industry operators on what to do when fossils are encountered can be found on the Industry, consultants and users page.

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.

Recreational collecting

Recreational collectors bring many important discoveries to the attention of professional paleontologists. Their contributions can be important for scientific discovery as the number of professional paleontologists in the field decreases.

Surface collection, of small amounts of fossils common at the site is allowed, using hand tools. 'Common' refers to types of fossils not considered scientifically significant, and that occur in abundance such that collecting a few specimens would not deplete the resource at the site. 

Access to Crown land for fossil surface collecting for recreational purposes is authorized under the Land Act Permission Policy. There may be crown land authorizations for resource extraction that are incompatible with fossil collecting, or could create unsafe conditions. You are responsible for researching the area you plan to access. Make sure it is not on private land, in a park, or within an area already authorized for resource extraction.

FrontCounter BC can assist with your search. You may also use iMap or EXPLORE mapping tools to research your area of interest.

Significant fossils

Significant fossils, such as vertebrate fossils, must not be collected. Sites containing vertebrate fossils or trackways, exceptionally preserved or diverse fossils or important new fossils sites must be reported to government (Use Report a Fossil form).

When unusual or rare specimens are discovered or when small quantities of fossils are present at a site, collectors must report findings to the Royal BC Museum, a local museum or the BC Fossil Management Office.

Common fossils

Collected common fossils can be kept only for personal use, and must not be sold or removed from B.C. A fossil collector who is not a member of a local paleontological society is encouraged to review the Vancouver Paleontological Society website’s code of ethics regarding fossil collecting.

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.

A non-extractive commercial use, such as guided adventure tourism, may be a suitable activity in specific circumstances where the potential to educate the public on the scientific and educational value of fossils is high with a corresponding low impact on the fossil 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 B.C. will not be considered until appropriate policy is in place.