Fossil Collecting in Parks and Protected Areas

The British Columbia Paleontological Alliance (BCPA) Standards and Ethics for Scientific Collecting states that members should ensure that appropriate permission and/or permits have been obtained from landowners or governmental authorities before venturing to a fossil site. Members who fail to adhere to these standards may have their membership in the Alliance revoked.

While "venturing" to a fossil site in a park to have a look is OK, collecting is not. This can create a dilemma at times. Suppose you are hiking in a park and come across a fossil which is an excellent specimen, may be unusual, and possibly of scientific importance. What to do? Do you A) collect it for "science" because the next person who comes along may not be as scrupulous as you and would secretly hoard it or (gasp!) sell it?; or B) record information in a non-intrusive manner about the fossil (type, location, GPS, photograph, is it fragile and at risk of being eroded away, etc.) and notify the park authorities?

As hard as it may be to walk away, the correct answer is B. You should offer the assistance of your society and/or the BCPA in arranging for a qualified researcher to study and/or collect the fossil and placement in a museum.

The provincial, federal and local governments (regional districts and municipalities) all require permits to collect within parks or other protected areas. All levels of government have legislation or regulations which state that collecting in parks and other protected areas without a valid permit is an offence and subject to fines and/or imprisonment, depending on the nature of the offence.

Park authorities may consider issuing permits for scientific research collecting. However, this is unlikely to be the case for general or individual collecting. Research permits are normally given only to qualified researchers, and applicants will be asked for their academic and other credentials.

It can sometimes be difficult when out in the field to determine where the park boundaries are located. The boundaries of parks which are adjacent to marine or freshwater bodies may or may not extend past the high-water mark into the foreshore or below the water surface. When in doubt, take the precautionary approach and consider it within the park and check with the park authorities to ascertain the boundaries. Legal descriptions are often included in the legislation or regulations establishing the park.

Provincial Parks

Legislation for provincial parks and other protected areas are the Park Act, Protected Areas of British Columbia Act, Ecological Reserves Act and the Environment and Land Use Act. The legislation for protected areas not officially designated a park or an ecological reserve normally provides these areas, through regulation, the same degree of protection as if they were a park. Permits are required within these areas.

The Permit and Authorization Service Bureau (PASB), Ministry of Environment, is responsible for parks and protected areas permits. Information and contacts can be found here. Information on Park Use Permits and Ecological Reserve Permits is here. An application for a Research & Education Park Use Permit may be downloaded here.

Federal Parks

Federal parks are protected under the Canada National Park Act and permits are required to undertake research. In some cases, lands under federal administration are intended to become parks, but have not been officially designated under the Act. These lands may be proclaimed as a national park reserve by regulation and provided the same degree of protection as if they were a federal park.

The lands along the west coast of Vancouver Island which include the popular Long Beach, West Coast Trail, and Broken Islands Group are such a case. Most of these lands were earlier transferred from the province to the federal government for park purposes. These lands were formally proclaimed by regulation the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve under the Canada National Park Act. Information on the Parks Canada research permit system, including research priorities by national park, guidelines and instructions for applying for a permit, and other information can be found here.

Local Government Parks

Local government authority to establish and manage parks is through the provincial Community Charter and the Local Government Act (formerly the Municipal Act). Permit requirements will differ between local governments, depending on their by-laws. Contact the specific local government if you are interested in undertaking research in a local park.

Conclusion

It is important to emphasize that working with parks and permitting agencies can lead to a positive and constructive relationship. It may open possibilities for collaborative projects advancing paleontology rather than to situations where they may be reluctant to issue permits to researchers because of past or perceived problems or lack of trust. In this way, there may be opportunities for amateurs to also get involved in projects within parks, or possibly as stewards/wardens.