After years of waiting and waffling, the provincial government finally gave the McAbee fossil beds official heritage designation.??
Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson made the announcement last month, formalizing a step government indicated earlier in the year that it would take.??
The designation came after scientists complained publicly for years the rich fossil beds, from the Eocene epoch, about 50 million years ago, were being either plundered by fossil hunters or turned into industrial absorbent materials. ??
Local entrepreneur David Langevin partnered with an outside friend to harvest fossils on what was originally staked as a mining claim. While nominally a commercial operation, the partners co-operated with Thompson Rivers University and outside scientists who came from around the world to dig, just as thousands of Kamloops children have at the same location.??
But the site needed protection beyond goodwill agreements. Now it has it. ??
Next steps are more complicated. Government has yet to reach a deal on compensation with the partners Robert Drachuk and the estate of David Langevin. Langevin died before government indicated it would move to protect the site. ??
The bigger question is what will happen to the site near Cache Creek along the Trans-Canada Highway? Will it be cordoned off, forever the domain of scientists?
Or will the province allow children and adults the joy of unearthing common fossils, something that's been done there for more than a decade? ??
The questions also come amid a backdrop of a tight economy and tighter government budgets. Ideally, the McAbee site would be given park status and operated as a day-use area. Staff would be on hand to let visitors dig through material already cleared, or monitored, by scientists.?
TRU could become a lead agency; such a facility could become a major draw. ??
Government is now working on what it terms a conservation protocol. Information indicates that protocol will continue public access and enjoyment of the McAbee beds. ??
Protecting the prehistoric heritage was the right move. Now government has plenty of time to plan the next stage for the internationally recognized property.