South Okanagan biodiversity hot spot protected in land deal

Click to play video: 'South Okanagan land deal'
South Okanagan land deal
The native grasslands of the South Okanagan are a hotspot for biodiversity, hosting a huge number of B.C.’s at-risk species. Now, 151 acres of land in the White Lake area will be protected from development forever, thanks to a 1.8 million land deal involving the Nature Trust. Shelby Thom reports. – Jul 8, 2021

One of the most breathtaking natural landscapes in the South Okanagan will now be protected from development forever, thanks to a $1.8-million land purchase by the Nature Trust of BC.

The non-profit land conservation organization bought 151 acres (61 hectares) of ecologically important land, known as the Park Rill Floodplain, to expand the White Lake Basin Biodiversity Ranch conservation complex in the South Okanagan.

“It’s important to conserve and protect this land, especially in this area, because of pressures from development and climate change,” Okanagan conservation land manager Nick Burdock said while giving Global News a tour of the site on Thursday.

Read more: Couple donates N.B. land to conservation group after buying it to stop cottage developments

“We are seeing increases in loss of habitat, especially in the Okanagan, where prime habitat for species at risk and even common species is being lost.”

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Julian Zelazny, director of conservation land securement, said Nature Trust paid fair market value based on a recent appraisal.

Click to play video: 'Wetland acquisition in south Okanagan aims to restore natural habitat'
Wetland acquisition in south Okanagan aims to restore natural habitat

“We were actually approached by this landowner. The landowners are very much interested in the conservation of nature; they are big fans of nature and wildlife,” he said.

The biodiversity hot spot is home to at least five federally listed at-risk species, including the Lewis’s woodpecker, western tiger salamander, Great Basin spadefoot, Great Basin gopher snake and western rattlesnake.

A Lewis’s woodpecker (Melanerpes lewis) perched on a branch in the Okanagan Valley. Submitted

“Those are five species that we know are here; there’s likely more. Within the White Lake basin, we have identified critical habitat for over 35 species,” Burdock said.

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It is difficult to find low-land habitats unaffected by development, but three-quarters of the Park Rill Floodplain remains in a relatively natural state, allowing it to support six sensitive ecosystems: sagebrush steppe, open coniferous woodland, seasonally flooded fields, wet meadow, sparsely vegetated rocky outcrops and, importantly, grasslands.

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Naturalist club wants Vernon grassland purchased for conservation

Conservationists plan to restore the natural floodplain and mitigate the risk of catastrophic wildfires through prescribed burns and the thinning of trees.

The Nature Trust of BC said it is interested in expanding protected lands in the Okanagan.

The Great Basin spadefoot is an at-risk species and calls the Okanagan Valley home. Submitted

“The Nature Trust of BC has conserved 178,000 acres across B.C., and every year we add to that when high-biodiversity properties become available,” said Jasper Lament, the organization’s CEO.

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Some landowners also donate all or part of the value of their property.

“We can discuss with the landowner possible tax advantages they may enjoy if they could donate some or all of the value of the property,” Zelazny said.

The Western rattlesnake is a federally-listed species at risk that lives in the South Okanagan. Submitted

The latest land deal was made possible with the financial support of Environment Climate Change Canada, the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, George Galbraith and Family, Val and Dick Bradshaw and many individual donors.

Click to play video: 'Okanagan conservation group looks to protect wildlife with ecological corridor'
Okanagan conservation group looks to protect wildlife with ecological corridor

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