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Naturalist club wants $28M Vernon grassland purchased for conservation

Click to play video: 'Naturalist club wants Vernon grassland purchased for conservation' Naturalist club wants Vernon grassland purchased for conservation
WATCH: A North Okanagan naturalist group sees a new real estate listing is an opportunity to protect local grassland habitat. – Sep 3, 2020

A North Okanagan naturalist group sees a new real estate listing as an opportunity to protect local grassland habitat.

The club is hoping the government or a non-profit organization will step in to buy the multi-million dollar O’Keefe Range Lands for conservation.

The 2,300-acre property, northwest of downtown Vernon, is currently owned by descendants of the O’Keefe family, who started ranching in the Vernon area in the 1800s.

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The property has been used as rangeland for cattle for years and is listed for sale for more than $28 million.

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The North Okanagan Naturalists’ Club would like the property to stay in its current condition to protect the habitat of wild animals and plants.

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It’s hoping a group will come together to buy the site to protect it.

“There (are) many forms of animal life and plant life that use the grassland as their habitat. With the large quantity of grasslands in British Columbia that have disappeared over the years it is rather a rare commodity,” said Harold Sellers, the club’s past president.

“I think it has (the) most benefit if it is maintained as a habitat for species survival.”

It’s unclear how much appetite there is to buy the grassland for conservation.

Asked if they would be willing to help buy the property or purchase it outright, the City of Vernon said council hadn’t discussed the matter, The Nature Conservancy of Canada declined to comment and the Regional District of North Okanagan said it would be interested in working with others to look for ways to protect the land.

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“This is still very early on so (I’m) not surprised that not a lot is being said yet,” Sellers said.

“I think the interest is there so we will continue to advocate for groups to come together.”

At the same time, there have been calls for the provincial government to purchase another multi-million dollar Vernon property, that’s up for sale, and turn it into a park.

That property, the 234-acre Chelsea Estate, is located on the shore of Okanagan Lake.

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Mark Lester is the listing real estate agent for both properties.

“If they could be in long term public hands (that would be) fantastic,” Lester said.

“But, again, in both cases the owners need to ensure that they do right by themselves and that ultimately the transaction makes sense within the context of the market place.”

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The province said BC Parks will review both Vernon properties, but that it gets “numerous proposals every year” about buying land for parks or protected areas.

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