TUMBLER RIDGE, B.C. – The curator of the Tumbler Ridge Museum and executive director of the Peace Region Paleontology Research Centre has responded to several concerns raised by the Peace River Regional District Board at a meeting last week.
At a meeting last Thursday, the PRRD Board voted in favour of a resolution from Director Rob Fraser for the Regional District to seek clarification from the Museum Foundation and the Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark Board about a meeting held on July 20th.
Fraser, who was at that meeting as a representative of the PRRD, said he heard several things that caused him to become concerned.
Among the issues, Fraser said that the Museum’s curator Dr. Lisa Buckley was exploring other locations to have the museum’s fossils moved to in case the museum were to once again lose its funding, and that the TRMF had denied UNESCO evaluators and Geopark Society members access to one of its paleontological digs.
Dr. Buckley said during an interview this week that her chief responsibility with the museum is to ensure that the fossils – which are in fact the property of the B.C. Government – are stored in a proper place for safekeeping.
She said that due to the museum’s ongoing funding woes – which began in March – if the museum were to close its doors once again the fossils might not be stored in a proper place.
“Any collection, whether it’s a fossil collection, or a collection of bugs in jars, or pickled fish in jars, if those natural history collections lose financial support and their ability to remain in an area, they become what’s termed an ‘orphaned’ collection,” said Dr. Buckley. “It’s not like storing rocks in a garage. These are heritage items and they do need specialized care. With that care comes a building to put them in, paying people to actually look after them and to manage all of the records that are associated to them, and to monitor tham and make sure nothing horrible happens to them in their cabinets. There’s a lot that goes into the preservation of our natural history collections. It’s not just like putting ceramic things on a fireplace mantlepiece. Even though they are fossils and have a lot of rock in them, they’re still subject to degradation.”
She said that the provincial government has strict regulations on how fossils are cared for and managed under the Fossil Management Framework, which was implemented in 2005.
Dr. Buckley also gave a reason for the Museum Foundation denying UNESCO evaluators and Geopark Society members access to one of its paleontological digs, saying that the cancellation was given on short notice, and because the dig in question is of critical scientific importance as it is so far the only tyrannosaur trackway discovered anywhere on Earth.
“We did get very short notice to arrange a trip to the site, which is in a remote location and it does take a lot of time – more than a couple of days – to get a site ready for visitation. So, the logistics just weren’t going to work out in the timeframe that were notified with. As far as we know, the Geopark Society knew months in advance that the advisors were coming in. We had a week’s notice, so that’s not really enough time to properly prepare a site.”
Dr. Buckley said, however, that the chief reason for the denial was due to the museum restricting access to its scientifically-important fossil localities to paleontologists and students.
She added that the restriction had been put in place prior to the museum knowing about the visit.
“These are people who we know work with very sensitive location data, and we know that they are bound by the same ethics and sense of responsibility when it comes to not disclosing that just because it’s a cool site and they want to take other people to it. This is a very, very sensitive location. It’s difficult to get to, but once you know where it is, it’s easy to find again. It’s also physically sensitive. The rock that the footprints are on is very unstable.”
She explained that as a paleontologist, she wanted to ensure that as few members of the general public know the location of the site, due both to its rarity and also due to other fossil sites being vandalized in the past.
“Every fossil footprint site that we’ve opened to the public has been vandalized or has had specimens stolen from it. So, this is a very real concern that we face when we make a decision to open a site to the general public.”