A newly acquired 90-acre property north of Road 22 will help the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) restore and protect a vital area of wetlands in the South Okanagan.
NCC made the announcement recently at Burrowing Owl Estate Winery at an event attended by a number of environmentalists, including birder and MP Richard Cannings.
The land provides connectivity with several other conservation parcels in the Osoyoos Oxbows south of Road 22, extending to Osoyoos Lake.
“Wetlands are really critical for nature,” said Barb Pryce, NCC program director for the Southern Interior. “We’re in a pretty arid landscape here in the South Okanagan, so having any sort of water feature like a wetland is really important for birds, animals and humans because they act as filtration mechanisms for clean water.”
Pryce said the total cost of the acquisition project was $1.9 million, including the land purchase, associated costs and staff time to develop the project and provide stewardship. The purchase closed on Jan. 12.
Much of the land, which was acquired from long-time rancher Jim Pendergraft, has been in hay production.
The Osoyoos Oxbows is recognized as an Important Bird Area with birds using the wetland for breeding, nesting, hunting and as a migration stopover.
“This whole South Okanagan Valley is a major bird migration corridor in spring and fall,” said Pryce. “It’s also a large valley bottom piece, which is pretty rare now, given that people like to be in the valley bottoms.”
Many of the wetland riparian areas since the turn of the 20th century have been drained and farmed.
“To find a piece of this size that is connected to other conservation areas is a pretty special thing,” said Pryce.
The birds in these wetlands include the only breeding population of bobolinks in the Okanagan Valley, long-billed curlew and yellow-breasted chat. All these are designated as species at risk.
Pryce said the area is also used by ducks, geese, various types of owl and bats, which need water and are important to healthy ecosystems.
“This morning I saw a great blue heron down there eating mice and having a good time with his lunch,” she said.
The project will involve the restoration of some of the agricultural lands to a more natural wetland, similar to what has been done south of Road 22 by NCC and Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC).
It will provide habitat for such species at risk as the western painted turtle, Great Basin spadefoot and blotched tiger salamander.
The project is a partnership with DUC, which contributed funds for the purchase, is a co-title holder and will collaborate on the restoration work.
Many other funders contributed to the project including the Government of Canada through the Natural Area Conservation Program, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, B.C. Conservation Foundation, Oliver-Osoyoos Naturalist Club, South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club, Okanagan Similkameen Parks Society, Burrowing Owl Winery and many individuals.
By Richard McGuire