Site protection

Protected fossil sites provide opportunities for scientific advancement, regional educational and recreational programs and community involvement. Sites raise awareness of local fossil resources, foster a local stewardship ethic for fossils and can encourage geological and fossil tourism.

Last updated: April 8, 2021

On this page:

Development of sites for tourism and recreational activities have significant positive impacts for communities and regions by:

  • Helping to transition from sole reliance on traditional resource industries and diversify the economy
  • Providing opportunities for scientific study and discovery of new species
  • Connecting people to the landscape, its features (including oral history and sacred uses) and its stories through deep time
  • Providing a way to experience the effect of time and human interaction on the landscape
  • Increasing community pride by positioning a site as a global tourism destination

Protecting a fossil site

The protection of fossil sites may be considered when sites are significant for scientific, educational, cultural, recreational and economic reasons, or are threatened by exploitation or development.

A paleontological review will be required to evaluate the scientific importance of the fossil resource, 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 the Land 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 the Land 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.

Other mechanisms available to protect fossil sites include:

  • 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

Fossils qualify under the Heritage Conservation Act as items having “heritage value” because of their scientific and educational worth.

The Heritage Conservation Act 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, one site was designated on Vancouver Island in 1989, and one site was designated west of Kamloops in 2012.

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.

National and Provincial parks also provide protection. Examples are:

  • 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 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1981

  • Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park: The park was created in 1967 to protect the globally significant Eocene fossil beds in Driftwood Canyon. The fossil beds were discovered in the early 1900s. Shale layers preserve a diverse assemblage of plant, insect, fish, bird and mammal species that inhabited this area 52 million years ago