Alberta man sentenced after illegally excavating B.C. dinosaur tracks

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FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — A man who illegally unearthed dinosaur tracks from a protected site near Hudson’s Hope has been sentenced to 25 days in jail and fined $15,000.

According to court documents, Alberta resident, Bennward Ingram, along with three other men used power tools to excavate and remove fossils of dinosaur footprints that were a part of the Six Peaks Dinosaur Track Site (SPDT) — one of the 10 most important track sites in North America.

“Surveillance photos and witnesses reported four men driving in two vehicles and using power tools to remove individual tracks from the site over a period of at least 2½ hours,” the document reads.

The tools allegedly used by Ingram and the other three men included a portable generator, an air chisel, a sledgehammer, a pry bar and other excavation tools.

“The excavation work was halted only when two separate groups of witnesses arrived and began observing the work, at which point the four men packed up their equipment and departed,” the court heard.

Court also heard that the large slabs of fossil tracks were either removed, damaged by being broken up or possibly destroyed. None of the fossil tracks that were removed from the site have ever been recovered.

While the track-bearing surface is 8 to 10 centimetres of sandstone, the court decision stated that the damage caused by the illegal excavation is now significantly more susceptible to deterioration from natural processes.

“Cracks or fractures have been created that will now more rapidly accelerate otherwise natural erosion and as a result, a significant degree of scientific information has been lost and will continue to be lost as the damage now naturally propagates.”

Ingram was charged under B.C.’s Land Act and pleaded guilty to one count of unlawfully excavating on Crown land.

Preliminary studies have found that that site, which was designated as a protected area back in 2016, contains over 500 dinosaur footprints over about 750 square metres and is one of the largest track sites found in Western Canada in more than a generation. The site also contains about 56 distinct animal trackways.

“These tracks represent diverse dinosaurs from the Early Cretaceous epoch who walked on sandy ground approximately 125-113 million years ago, following which their tracks were fossilized,” the court decision said.

“The dinosaur tracks include three of the major groups of dinosaurs that lived during that period, specifically: theropods; ornithopods; and sauropods,” it continued.

The site is also located on the traditional territory of the Saulteau First Nations, who told the court through a community impact statement that the destruction of the tracks in the band’s territory was “very disturbing.”

“As a result of this destruction, the community feels less safe, and their enjoyment of the area as a place of solace or “peaceful enjoyment” is disrupted, ” the court heard.

Several other First Nations cultural areas are located close to the site, and community members said that they are now fearful that other acts of vandalism may occur in these remote and culturally important areas.

Dr. Charles Helm, who, along with local youth Daniel Helm and Mark Turner, initially discovered the track site in 2000, also provided the court with a victim impact statement.

Learn more about the court’s decision here.

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