Fossil bed loses protection

The B.C. Paleontological Association has pulled out of an agreement signed last year with government to protect a renowned fossil bed near Cache Creek

An official with the B.C. government also acknowledged there is no money for oversight at McAbee fossil beds. Monitoring of the site was one of the goals contained in the agreement designed to protect what one researcher called a world-class site now used as a tourist destination.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed last year with the province, B.C. Paleontological Association, Royal B.C. Museum and Thompson Rivers University.

Its goals included mapping and potentially expanding the fossil beds from the Eocene era, 50 to 60 million years ago, as well as monitoring finds and collecting and storing significant fossils at TRU.

"Because government pulled its funding the B.C. Paleontological Alliance has withdrawn from the MOU," said TRU geology professor Ken Klein.

"Government didn't do anything it said it would do. It's unfortunate. There's no money for anything."

Bruce Archlbald, a paleontology researcher at Simon Fraser University, said the collapse of the deal is the latest failure by government to protect the McAbee site.

Local claim holders staked the beds a decade ago as a mineral tenure, something that can no longer be done. They are operating it as a site for tourists, school children and collectors.

While under few restrictions, the claim holders co-operate with TRU to catalogue and store what they consider significant finds, including insect, fish and plants fossils.

"My understanding is B.C. is the only jurisdiction in Canada that doesn't have regulations that define protection of this heritage resource," said Archibald, who completed his PhD research on the beds and catalogued new species from it.

"Things are worse than they were a year ago. The rate of destruction of some of the fossil beds appears to be high."

Garth Webber Atkins, manager of strategic policy at the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, acknowledged government has no budget for oversight of the site beside the Trans-Canada highway about 10 kilometres east of Cache Creek.

"The economic situation has changed quite drastically and there just wasn't the money available."

The ministry hired a paleontologist to survey the geology and fossil resources of the beds. But the contractor quit before completing the report.

Webber Atkins said B.C. Museum curator Richard Hebda has agreed to complete the report, which is expected to contain recommendations on how fossils should be treated.

One of the claim holders, Dave Langevin, said he welcomes the report and will abide by guidelines recommended.

"They'll come out with rules for me . I believe we'll be able to live with them, he said acknowledging "some scientists have been trying to get me out of there since I staked it in 2001."

Despite criticism by Archibald, TRU's Klein said he has a great deal of trust in the claim holders, who have turned over significant finds to the university.

"If they find something significant they hold on to it. Several times a year they bring in the collections."

As for the B.C. Liberal government and its approach to the fossil bed Klein said. "They came in with big expectations and no money."

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