Theft & Vandalism At A Fossil Footprint Site
In April, 2004 one of British Columbia's few in situ dinosaur tracksites was the subject of vandalism and theft. The tracksite was on the banks of the Wolverine River, near the town of Tumbler Ridge, and was discovered in summer of 2001, and was granted protective status which also forbade any form of excavation. The site displayed several footprints and trackways of theropod (meat-eating) and ornithopod (plant-eating) dinosaurs and was painstakingly exposed by volunteers from the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation. A very user-friendly path was made by the the Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society (another local volunteer organization) through the forest, down to the riverbank where the site was located and included wooden reinforced steps and heavy rope guidelines in steep areas. This tracksite was never meant to be kept secret, but was designed to be used by anyone interested in viewing this interesting palaeontological phenomenon from the past.
However, in situ fossil sites are vulnerable to unscrupulous collectors and the temptation proved too much for some "collector" who ripped apart a large track area, with a hammer, chisel to get at one or two prints. As the Wolverine River tracksite was in a protected area, this was a criminal act that was reported to the RCMP who investigated this fossil theft.
One of the prints that was stolen was one that has come to symbolize Tumbler Ridge's venture into the field of palaeontology (the left print in the photograph below). Replicas of this theropod track had been expertly manufactured by volunteers from the T.R.M.F. in consultation with Darren Tanke (technician from the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller), and Rich McCrea (dinosaur track researcher from the University of Alberta). Hundreds of replicas were made and sold, with the proceeds going to the T.R.M.F. to help fund the establishment of the P.R.P.R.C. and other palaeontology projects.
It is hoped that this event will have some positive benefits. At the moment the province of British Columbia does not have any comprehensive legislation for the protection of its fossils and fossil sites. Perhaps this event will assist the British Columbia Palaeontological Alliance (a group of professional and amateur palaeontologists dedicated to preserving B.C.'s palaeontology heritage) in their current efforts to introduce legislation to protect this provinces palaeontological resources.
Two tracks from medium (left) and small (right) meat-eating dinosaurs from the Wolverine River tracksite, before April, 2004.
A lantern tour to the site early in May led to the discovery of the theft and vandalism of the tracksite
Charles Helm (Vice-President of the T.R.M.F.) pointing to where the tracks used to be.