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PRRD sounds off on TR Museum Foundation

At a recent Peace River Regional District meeting, mayors are saying that Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation comments and actions have potentially risked the status of Tumbler Ridge’s UNESCO Geopark.
The Dinosaur Discovery Gallery in Tumbler Ridge.

At a recent Peace River Regional District meeting, mayors are saying that Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation comments and actions have potentially risked the status of Tumbler Ridge’s UNESCO Geopark.

Tumbler Ridge’s Don McPherson, Taylor’s Rob Fraser — PRRD liaison to the TRMF — and Fort St. John’s Lori Ackerman told the regional board that UNESCO evaluators became alarmed when it was brought up that the TRMF was looking at moving the fossils.

“Dr. [Lisa] Buckley said as the keeper of the fossils, as the one charged with the responsibility of looking after these fossils, and that was her biggest and sole concern — if she had to move these fossils from this region, she would do that and was actively pursuing other facilities to take this collection to,” said Fraser.

“The evaluators were very distressed at the comments that were made by the museum foundation members and staff,” said Ackerman. “You have to know the evaluators have absolutely nothing to gain by sharing this, they were truly concerned.”

Fraser said the evaluators were also denied access to a field dig.

“I didn’t see a lot of willingness to cooperate [from the museum] — in fact, I saw hostility to working together.”

The evaluators were looking at the Geopark as part of a routine recertification, that was to occur four years after it had been made a UNESCO Global Geopark. The evaluators could either give the Geopark a green card, which would ensure another four years before review as it “continues to fulfill the criteria,” or a yellow card, in which they have two years to fix the problems. A red card can be received after a yellow card, and will result in the loss of the UNESCO Geopark status.

“They were pretty impressed, they were impressed with what the Geopark had done, they were impressed with a lot of things. There might have been a few small issues they had, but they were happy with it,” said McPherson. “Then we went for a meeting at the museum with the board — it all went sideways there.”

The mayors say they’ve been given 20 days — from the evaluation on July 20 — before the report from the evaluators is filed.

“They’ve given us 20 days to solve the problem and it can change what goes out in the report,” said McPherson.

“We need to do something, although it sounds like we have no authority, we need to reiterate how important it is to keep this collection in the Peace Region,” said Fraser.

The solution? A resolution was proposed at the meeting for PRRD to send a letter to TRMF, asking that the TRMF “immediately withdraws its plans to move any paleontological resources” from the museum, “immediately guarantees in writing that the TRMF board will seek the PRRD’s approval, as a significant funder, before any resources are moved or transferred,” and that the TRMF and Tumbler Ridge UNESCO Global Geopark “develop more professional working relationships with the District of Tumbler Ridge, Royal BC Museum.” (McPherson noted they had “hardly any problems with the Geopark.”) The letter asks the museum foundation to “clarify the conversation that took place [. . .] that has threatened the future certification of the UGG.”

The letter was to also request “discussions on a new governance and management as outlined in Facilitator’s Summary of the November 23, 2016 meeting,” which suggested the amalgamation of the museum and the Geopark.
The motion passed unanimously.

Concerns over PRRD’s funding of the TRMF were also raised. Through a funding agreement, the PRRD has given $800,000 over the last four years to TRMF, with the last payment being this year. The deal is described by PRRD directors as “no strings attached.”

“To tell you the truth, I was shocked that we didn’t have conditions on this money — shame on us,” said Area E Director Dan Rose. “It was used as a lever to slander the council of Tumbler Ridge, that we just give them the money and they can just do whatever they want with it.

“I think we need to rectify that in the future, before we enter the room with anybody. The smallest societies that we give grants don’t get no strings attached, so that’s something we learned. There is the opportunity now to say that until we get a resolution here, we can’t continue, we will not enter into a similar funding agreement with them. We do have some leverage there.”

When contacted, multiple Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation officials declined to comment, saying that a response will be drafted.