LAKE LOUISE, ALBERTA — A Quebec resident has been fined $20,000 for taking 45 fossils from three Rocky Mountain national parks, including an internationally renowned fossil collection.
Parks Canada said a member of the public tipped guards in Lake Louise, Alta., in 2020 about removing fossils from the Burgess Shale.
An investigation that summer and fall led to Quebec guards and police searching a home in the Montreal area.
“The investigation resulted in 45 fossils recovered, which were identified by an expert from the Royal Ontario Museum as coming from sites in Kootenay, Yoho and Jasper National Parks,” field unit superintendent Francois Masse said at a news conference Thursday. .
He said most of the fossils came from the Burgess Shale Marble Canyon quarry, an area off-limits to the public, in British Columbia’s Kootenay National Park.
Removing natural materials from national parks is against the law.
A man, who does not identify Parks Canada, pleaded guilty to two charges in a Cranbrook, BC court last month. He was ordered to return the fossils, pay the fine and serve a five-month suspended sentence, including a curfew.
“This is the highest fine yet imposed for the removal of fossils from the Burgess Shale and it explains the gravity of the crime and the importance of this site,” Masse said.
He said Parks Canada police have the recovered fossils.
There have been other cases where people have been caught taking fossils from the Burgess Shale, including one in 2016 when an international tourist was fined $4,000 for loading his backpack with them.
Paul Friesen, a Parks Canada park ranger in Radium Hot Springs, BC, said the latest investigation was complex because it needed to confirm a tip, find a suspect and work with other law enforcement agencies.
“The location of the fossils is in Kootenay National Park in British Columbia and the suspect (was) in the Montreal area,” he said.
Friesen said the investigation revealed that the man was trying to sell some of the fossils on the black market.
“There are different prices for which these are sold and it depends on who buys them,” he said. “They can range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on how rare they are and the quality of those fossils.
“It just shows the importance of those fossils to Parks Canada and the importance we place on protecting those fossils.”
The Burgess Shale is widely known as one of the most important fossil sites in the world. It contains fossil evidence of some of the earliest animals that lived in the oceans more than 505 million years ago and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.
A fossil site near Stanley Glacier in Kootenay National Park was discovered in 1989 by researchers at the Royal Ontario Museum.
The Marble Canyon quarry was discovered in 2012, and more than 10,000 specimens have been recovered from that site by researchers.
All sites are monitored electronically and by other means, Friesen said.
“We also rely on the remoteness of some of these sites to protect them,” he added.
“These locations are very rugged, very remote and subject to extreme weather conditions, so we are constantly evaluating what’s out there in terms of technology.
“We take the protection of these sites very seriously.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 12, 2022.
— By Colette Derworiz in Calgary