Every spring and summer the Royal Tyrrell Museum’s Resource Management Program receives phone calls and emails from amateur fossil collectors, wondering how they can legally collect fossils in Alberta. To ensure that you are collecting fossils in a legal and responsible manner in Alberta, follow these guidelines.
Disclaimer: These guidelines apply to all fossils in Alberta except ammonite shell (I will discuss ammonite shell collecting in a future post) and does not apply for provincial parks or other protected areas and lands under federal jurisdiction (such as national parks, First Nations Reservations and military bases).
Always get landowner permission. It is imperative that you contact the landowner of any property you want to access for fossil collecting. Not only is it the law, but it helps to maintain good relations between landowners and fossil collectors, both professional and amateur. In the case of Crown land, contact the managing government department as there may be special access conditions you need to follow.
Don’t excavate any fossil unless you have a Permit to Excavate Palaeontological Resources. It is legal to surface collect for fossils, but excavation permits are only issued to professional palaeontologists for research purposes.
In Alberta, excavation of a fossil is defined as exposing, extracting, or removing palaeontological resources (fossils) from their original context in the surrounding bedrock or enclosing sediment (Archaeological and Palaeontological Research Permit Regulation). If any kind of digging is needed to free a fossil from the ground then you should leave it where you found it.
For fossils such as petrified wood, plant leaf impressions and oyster shell you can apply for ownership through the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology (RTMP). For most types of fossils found in Alberta though, the ownership resides with the Crown so you can’t sell, trade, or remove the fossil from Alberta.
If you live in Alberta, you can take the fossil home with you but if you are visiting from outside the province, you cannot take any fossils when you return home.
If you happen to find a fossil that looks significant, leave it where you found it, but note its location either on a map or with a hand-held GPS unit (many smartphones have a GPS function). Take photos of the fossil. Close-ups so we can identify it, and some from farther back so we can use landmarks to relocate the fossil. Then, when you are somewhere safe, contact the RTMP to report the find.
When done in a legal and responsible manner, fossil collecting can be a rewarding hobby that benefits the collector and science. By working with the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology and the provincial universities, amateur collectors can have a significant impact on what we know about Alberta’s past.
If you have any further questions about collecting fossils in Alberta, email me.
-Dan Spivak, Head, Resource Management Program