Collecting Fossils in Alberta

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

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7 thoughts on “Collecting Fossils in Alberta

  1. What are the rules for surface collecting in the badlands? Does anybody privately own land there, that amateur collectors should be aware of? Or do the rules listed above also pertain to the badlands? Can you collect there under the same laws and regulations, or are there different laws concerning the badlands?
    Sorry for all the questions, I’m planning on moving to Alberta after high school and would like to know the rules before I start my hobby in Canada. Don’t want to break the law!

    • Hello Sofia – thank you for your questions!
      Yes the rules above do pertain to the Alberta Badlands in addition to the entire province of Alberta. Throughout Alberta, you may find ‘badlands’ or fossil bearing rocks on public, private or protected lands. It is up to the individual to ensure that they know who’s land they are on and if they are permitted to surface collect in that location. Typically, one would be able to surface collect on public land (not including provincial parks or protected areas) OR privately owned land with the owners consent.
      Hope this helps to answer you questions, please do let us know if you have any others!

  2. I have a contact in Lethbridge who buys ammonites from First Blood members, is it possible to acquire ammoites from first Blood members and transport them to the USA?

  3. I am recently retired in Alberta and have started to focus on collecting petrified wood, for personal interest, and to get out and stay active.

    I have some places I can legally surface collect petrified wood, which ranges in size from football size and down. They all appear much the same: black/beige color pieces of wood, with the typical features found in trees (growth rings, layers of wood, broken branches, etc). There will be quite a few pieces this size if I collect them.

    I understand the legislation about keeping these pieces, and the limitations that apply. I am now wondering about the process to get a ‘disposition certificate’, and are their forms or documents available I can use to apply, as I am interested in selling some pieces to people who are very interested. I am also interested in altering pieces for sale ie: cutting/polishing some pieces.

    I have gone over the legislation and much of the other information available on the internet, but I want to make sure I don’t so something I shouldn’t and needed to find out more about selling and altering the petrified wood and the actual process for the disposition certificate.

    I appreciate some expert help in this regard!!

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