Wildfires are a natural part of the ecosystem, but they can also damage land and pose a threat to wildlife. That’s why the provincial government says it’s temporarily blocking public access to a mountainous and rugged area east of Skaha Lake near Okanagan Falls, B.C.
As of Oct. 15, areas within McTaggart-Cowan/nsək’łniw’t wildlife management area (WMA), damaged by this summer’s Thomas Creek fire, have been closed to all public use.
“The Thomas Creek fire that occurred over the summer has severely damaged a portion of the McTaggart-Cowan/nsək’łniw’t WMA,” said a statement from the ministry of forests, lands and natural resources.
“In response to this vulnerability, the burned area is closed to the public. The entire WMA is also closed to mushroom picking, camping and motor-vehicle use.”
The temporary closure will continue until the threat to wildlife and the habitat is lessened, the province said.
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The closure does not apply to Indigenous uses for food, social, cultural or ceremonial activities.
Known as nsək’łniw’t in the Okanagan/Syilx language, the area has been protected by the Syilx people and “holds significant cultural value,” a statement said.
The Penticton Indian Band’s natural resources department made the recommendation to close the area to public use in an undated report.
“The nature-based solutions and the recommendations made for regeneration, recovery, and protection of significant and sensitive overlapping ecosystems must address more than just contemporary management issues on the land; it must look at the root of centuries-old colonial human influenced impact activities,” the report stated in its conclusion.
The wildlife management area was established in 2013 to protect the habitat for at-risk bighorn sheep.
The Thomas Creek wildfire, first discovered on July 11, scorched more than 10,000 hectares of land northeast of Okanagan Falls.