Collection and Use

Jurisdiction for Fossil Management

Prior to 2005, fossils were 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) was created to exclude fossils from the definition of “mineral” under the Act, and to state 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 regulation makes 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.

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.

Fossil Ownership and Reporting

In 2011, amendments to the Land Act strengthened provisions to manage fossils.

Under the Act, fossils on Crown land form part of the land.  As per section 4 of the legislation, 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, the Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development.  The BC Fossil Management Office within the ministry manages the provincial fossil resources on behalf of the Minister, guided by the Fossil Management Framework policy and procedures.

Fossil collectors are considered custodians of the fossils they find and collect.  Fossils found on Crown land are the property of the Crown; they cannot be sold or exported outside of British Columbia without prior 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.

At this time, authorizations to export fossils are provided only to recognized institutions conducting research; specific terms and conditions for the return of fossils to B.C. form part of these authorizations.

Reporting Fossil Discoveries

Industrial operations and amateur collectors can make important fossil discoveries. Members of the public who discover fossils are asked to report the discovery to the Royal BC Museum, BC Fossil Management Office, local museum, the local paleontological society or appropriate staff at the nearest university or college.

More specific guidelines for industry operators on what to do when fossils are encountered can be found on the Industry and User Information 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.

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.

Fossil surface collecting on Crown land for recreational purposes is authorized under the Land Act Permission Policy.  As Crown land authorizations for resource extraction may have been issued with purposes that may be incompatible with fossil collecting or could create unsafe conditions, recreational fossil collectors are responsible for researching the area they plan to access to ensure 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.

Only the collection of small amounts of types of fossils common at the site is allowed under the Permission Policy.  'Common' means large quantities of types of fossils that are not considered scientifically significant, and collecting a few specimens would not deplete the resource at the site.  Vertebrate fossils for example are significant fossils; sites containing vertebrate remains or other significant fossils, or important new fossils sites must be reported to government.

The permission to collect common fossils on Crown land is for surface collection only.  The use of small hand tools is allowed but no excavation is permitted.

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.

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 check with the BC Paleontological Alliance website to read the code of ethics regarding fossil collecting.

Research and scientific collection

The collection of fossils for scientific study can be authorized to institutions such as museums and universities, under the Land Act Community/Institutional policy.

Eligibility requirements for Community/Institution program

Museums and universities from other provinces are eligible under the Community/Institutional policy if they are a registered entity in Canada or are registered to do business in their province as per the requirement from their provincial registering body.

Application for Fossil Research Collecting

Authorizations to collect fossils on Crown land are issued to institutions such as museums and universities, pursuant to the Land Act, for site-specific collection of fossils for scientific study.

Applications for research authorizations must be submitted to FrontCounter BC by qualified paleontologists or scientists in related fields affiliated with an academic institution or a research centre with demonstrated expertise in fossils.

The application will be reviewed to ensure the package includes maps showing location of the site(s) and a management plan that contains a description of the site(s), a description of the intended activities at the site, methods for collecting and recording information, the name of the institution and the researcher's credentials, and the proposed methods for handling, recording, storing and transporting the specimens.

A copy of the application will be sent to the BC Fossil Management Office and to the Royal BC Museum (RBCM) in Victoria for expert review.  The RBCM may specify additional conditions to include in the research permit document such as collecting methods, quantities, specimen identification, storage and transportation.

The applicant must indicate how long the specimens will be kept out of the province (if applicable) and which recognized B.C. institution they will be returned to.

Out-of-province researchers wanting to collect B.C. fossils for scientific purposes require prearrangement with a qualified B.C. institution to ensure appropriate management of fossil resources at the site and of the collections from the site.

The fossils collected are the property of the Province of British Columbia and the institutions play a key role in ensuring stewardship of provincial assets. Accordingly, a written agreement must be signed between the researcher's institution and the B.C. repository to ensure that roles are clearly defined and responsibilities of each are understood.

The Royal BC Museum or other recognized B.C. fossil repository will ensure that fossils collected through research permits remain Crown property unless instructed otherwise by the Minister or designate.

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.