Protection of Blanche Brook fossils welcomed

Frank Gale
Published on January 10, 2012
The entrance of the one-kilometre trail to the fossil bed site at Blanche Brook in Stephenville is seen here.
Frank Gale

The Blanche Brook Fossil Site in Stephenville is among seven sites in the province now protected under the “Historic Resources Act” as a result of recently approved regulations.

STEPHENVILLE  The Blanche Brook Fossil Site in Stephenville is among seven sites in the province now protected under the “Historic Resources Act” as a result of recently approved regulations.

These significant palaeontological sites in Newfoundland and Labrador are located at Conception Bay South, Stephenville, Spaniards Bay, Bishop’s Cove, Trinity Bay North, Elliston, and Upper Island Cove.

“The regulations are aimed at protecting the province’s significant fossil resources,” said the Derrick Dalley, minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation.

“With these regulations in place, we are able to address the problem of collectors removing significant fossils and damaging their locations.”

The Blanche Brook petrified forest has trees embedded in sandstone lining the edges of the brook providing evidence that 305 million years ago, Newfoundland was part of one giant land mass called Pangaea and proving the island we live on today was once situated near the equator.

In the Blanche Brook sandstone is the oldest-known fossil bed of mountain plants, to date.The fossils provide a glimpse back to a time and place when the first tree species grew at higher elevations. Trees towering to heights of 164 feet with three-foot diameters that were once part of a tropical forest now rest, as fossils, on the riverbed of Blanche Brook.

One of a kind

Bill Alexander, who once headed up the Blanche Brook Steering Committee that hoped to develop the area as a fossil site, said this designation is good stuff.

“I’m pleased it’s finally protected and the province is taking this site seriously as it has great significance in a geological sense.

“It’s the only known site in the world to have fully intact fossils that are a sample of the first forest to produced seeds.

“These forests grew on mountainsides with towering trees. Prior to that, there were fern type forests that were regenerated from spores and not seeds,” he said.

Alexander said the only drawback to the new legislation might be if someone went to build an interpretative site for the fossils, that there may be restrictions.

Howard Falcon-Lang of the University of Bristol in England, a world authority on palaeontology, said Blanche Brook — which he visited several years ago — is an excellent fossil site.

“It dates from the Carboniferous Coal Age when Newfoundland was covered by steamy tropical rainforests — 300 million years ago. Amongst fossil sites of this age, Blanche Brook is globally unique in shedding light on ancient mountain environments — indeed it records the earliest evidence for the ‘greening’ of mountain tops,” he said.

Falcon-Lang said Bill Alexander and the Stephenville community done a terrific job in promoting and developing the site since its discovery in 2003.

“However, lying at the midpoint between Port aux Basques and Gros Morne, the Blanche Brook fossil site remains a huge untapped resource for regional geo-tourism and culture,” he said.

Mayor Tom O’Brien said the Stephenville town council is happy to see this provincial designation and the protection it will provide to the Blanche Brook fossil site.

“It needs to be protected as there’s a lot of interest in the site, even with tourists coming to see it; however, there are limitations in how much you can do with it as the site can’t be worked on with equipment and it has to be left to nature,” he said.

He said the Bay St. George Chamber of Commerce looked at developing some sort of interpretive site back in 2005; however that project did not get off the ground.