McAbee Fossil Beds Heritage Site

The McAbee fossil beds received official heritage designation on July 19, 2012. The site is closed to assess the heritage values and put interpretive components in place.

Last updated: December 22, 2020

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The area usually referred to as the McAbee site is located east of Cache Creek, B.C., and west of Kamloops, just north of and visible from Highway 1/97. The site is part of an old lake bed which was deposited about 50 million years ago. The fossil site is the most diverse known in British Columbia for plants and insects of the Eocene Epoch(lasting from 56 to 34 million years ago). The McAbee beds are known worldwide for their incredible abundance, diversity and quality of fossils.

Active mineral claims in the area have raised concerns from paleontologists that scientifically important fossils, and potentially valuable scientific information may be lost as a result of mining activities.

In 2007, in response to those concerns, the Province hired an independent expert to assess the significance of the McAbee fossil beds. Dr. Mark Wilson, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta, is a recognized expert in the study of similar fossil deposits.

In carrying out the assessment(PDF 3.3 MB), Dr. Wilson reviewed the literature on the site, obtained factual information on the fossils from experts, conducted a field inspection, and provided an independent professional opinion on the scientific significance of the site in relation to other comparable sites in B.C. 

Dr. Wilson concluded that the McAbee site is one of the two or three most significant sites in B.C. with Eocene fossils, and the most diverse known in Canada for fossils of this era. Dr. Wilson outlines the site’s key advantages as high species diversity, fossil abundance, site accessibility, excellent preservation and recognizable fossils. 

To help ensure that significant fossils can be made available for research and to the people of B.C., the Province reached a voluntary agreement in 2008 with tenures holders and other stakeholders that outlined a strategy for the preservation of significant fossils at the site. 

A provincially-funded geological and paleontological survey(PDF 7.4 MB) of the McAbee fossil beds was completed in December 2009. 

The survey report presents new scientific information on the importance of the site, its geology and the accessibility, quality, diversity and abundance of fossils. Based on the additional findings, government determined that the site warranted heritage designation. Given the significance of the McAbee fossil resource and the fact that the voluntary agreement did not adequately protect the site, the commercial extraction practices should not continue.

Heritage site designation process

On February 25, 2012, Minister Thomson announced the start of the formal process to designate the McAbee fossil beds as provincial heritage site. This process was completed on July 19. The designation will protect the fossil resource and manage it to its fullest scientific and educational potential.

A Conservation Management Plan is under development, with input from stakeholders, which will provide guidance to decision-makers when addressing issues and considering uses at the site. 

Heritage designation ensures the fossil resource will be managed to provide research, education and recreational opportunities. The designation prevents damage to the fossil beds by restricting certain activities and authorizing others through permits. The heritage site includes the known extent of the fossil beds and also captures key ecological and landform features and deposits of the Eocene volcanic complex of interior B.C. The total area for protection covers 548 ha (see a map(PDF 213 KB) of designated areas for details).

A summary(PDF 292 KB) of the value statements and character-defining elements developed during a stakeholders’ workshop was produced and is available for review. 

The McAbee fossil beds received official heritage designation on July 19, 2012.

Site access

Public access is an important component of McAbee’s future. The Conservation Management Plan when completed will provide information on how to access the site, which parts of the site are accessible to the public and guidelines with respect to practices at the site.

Short-term plan

The site will remain closed while site safety and archaeological and paleontological assessments are arranged, and more detailed mapping of the fossil beds takes place. No permits will be issued for fossil collection or extraction until such time as site safety and archaeological requirements have been addressed.

Results of the slope stability assessment, archaeological assessment and detailed fossil mapping will be used to zone the site (zone examples would include research areas, area for amateurs with oversight from qualified person, area for general access and education). Permit issuance will be administered by the Land Tenures Branch of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.

Business models for managing the site are being investigated with potential partners. 

Long-term plan

The conservation management plan for McAbee will be finalized and adopted and day-to-day permitting responsibility will be handled by the regional office of the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

The goal of the heritage site is to conserve the heritage values of McAbee, including providing information on how to interpret common fossils and significant fossils, conveying site-safety and site-conduct messaging, and educating the public about the many values at the site. 

Research work and potential research digs with an educational component will also be investigated.