Collection and Disposition of Ammonite Shell in Alberta

The beauty of Alberta ammonite shell makes it a prized target for amateur and commercial fossil collectors. What many collectors don’t realize is that the rules for collecting ammonite shell are different than they are for any other type of fossil in Alberta due to their commercial and First Nations significance.

The difference is that you cannot surface collect ammonite shell in Alberta. The provincial ministries Alberta Energy and Alberta Culture regulate collecting them on lands where the Crown owns the minerals. The first step to get permission to collect ammonite shell on Crown Land is to apply to Alberta Energy for an Ammonite Shell Agreement (http://www.energy.alberta.ca/minerals/718.asp#ammonite).

Next is to apply to Alberta Culture for an exemption of section 30(1) of the Historical Resources Act. These applications are processed by the Land Use Planning Program of the Historic Resources Management Branch and can be obtained by contacting George Chalut at george.chalut@gov.ab.ca. You have four months to apply for the exemption after receiving your Ammonite Shell Agreement or Alberta Energy may cancel your Agreement.

Permission to collect ammonite shell on freehold mineral title lands is administered only by Alberta Culture. There is no need to contact Alberta Energy or to obtain an Agreement, but you must have an exemption of section 30(1) of the Historical Resources Act by contacting George Chalut.
Another critical step, which is not administered by the Government of Alberta, is to obtain surface rights access. A prospective collector must contact the surface rights holder/landowner to obtain permission to access the property. On freehold mineral title lands, you must also contact the mineral titleholder and seek permission to collect ammonite shell.

Once you have received all the appropriate approvals and permissions, you can begin collecting ammonite shell. The type of collecting, and where you can collect, along with any other requirements will be detailed in your exemption of section 30(1) of the Historical Resources Act.
Even after the fossils have been collected, they are still property of the Crown, so they cannot be sold, traded, altered, or removed from Alberta. To get ownership, you must apply to Alberta Culture for disposition. The Resource Management Program at the Royal Tyrrell Museum manages the fossil Disposition Process and all requests for information and application forms can be sent to me at dan.spivak@gov.ab.ca.

To initiate the Process, you must submit an application for the Disposition of Palaeontological Resources, along with photos of the ammonite shell for which you are seeking disposition. This application process is free.

Once the application is received here, it is reviewed by Resource Management staff for completeness and entered into our database. If it is complete, with all relevant information, signatures, and photographs, the application is sent to one of our curators for review. The curator will review the photographs and determine if any of the fossils are scientifically significant. Any significant fossils will be removed from the disposition process and must be sent to the Royal Tyrrell Museum to become part of the Provincial Collection.

After this review, the application is returned to the Resource Management Program where the Disposition Certificate is drafted. The application and certificate are sent to the Assistant Deputy Minister of the Heritage Division (Alberta Culture) for final approval. Once signed, the Resource Management Program drafts a letter explaining the results of the Disposition Process. This letter is returned to you with the approved application form and Disposition Certificate.

When the Disposition Process is complete, you become the legal owner of the ammonite shell approved for disposition. You are now free to sell, trade, or alter the ammonite shell as you like. It is important to remember that there may be federal export issues to address before the ammonite shell can be exported from Canada. Go to http://www.pch.gc.ca/eng/1358364893642/1358365043241 for more information.

One of the most stunning ammonite specimens discovered in Alberta. On display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

One of the most stunning ammonite specimens discovered in Alberta. On display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

-Dan Spivak
Head, Resource Management Program

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2 comments
  1. Howard Allen said:

    Dan, I’m wondering if you can clear up some confusion. You state (second paragraph): “The difference is that you cannot surface collect ammonite shell in Alberta.” However, the Ammonite Shell Regulation (AR 152/2004), Section 2 states: “No person shall recover non-exposed ammonite shell unless the person is the holder of an agreement.” The Regulation earlier defines “non-exposed ammonite shell” as “ammonite shell that is not exposed on the ground surface.” So I–and perhaps many others–would interpret this to mean “thou shalt not excavate ammonite shell”. The Regulation would not appear to prohibit surface collecting. In this respect, it seems no different from any other fossil, none of which can be excavated without a permit (according to the Historical Resources Act, Section 30(1)). Can you point to the specific text of this (or some other act) that says ammonite shell cannot be surface collected?

    Thanks in advance.

    • Thank you for your question, Howard,

      Section 9 of The Dispositions (Ministerial) Regulation (Alberta Regulation 101/1998) states:

      No person shall recover ammonite shell by any means from any land unless that person

      (a) has an HRA exemption,
      (b) has a permit issued under section 30(1) of the Act,
      (c) has received a disposition of the interest of the Crown in
      right of Alberta in ammonite shell under section 8(1), or
      (d) is an Indian or member of a band within the meaning of the Indian Act (Canada) and is recovering ammonite shell for religious or ceremonial purposes.

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