The provincial government won’t be loosening new restrictions on rototilling and the uprooting of Eurasian milfoil in Okanagan and Osoyoos Lake.
In a letter sent to the Central Okanagan Regional District last week, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations reiterated that rototillers are not to be used anywhere endangered Rocky Mountain ridged mussels have been found.
“The province, along with the ministry recognizes the threat that invasive milfoil poses to the recreation and tourism values within the Okanagan Basin,” ministry regional executive director Gerry MacDougall said.
“However, these impacts have to be weighed against the need to adequately protect native ecosystems and the species that inhabit them.”
He added the province will be working with the Okanagan Basin Water Board, which manages the rototilling program, to “discover and implement improved milfoil management practices that also support healthy RMRM populations.”
For years the board’s rototillers have avoided areas where the Rocky Mountain ridged mussel — listed as a “special concern” under the federal Species at Risk Act — had been found. The mussel is native to the Okanagan and is found nowhere else in Canada.
Earlier this year the list of beaches in the Okanagan where the mussel has been spotted grew substantially to include several high-public use areas that are traditionally rototilled. Those include Kin and Paddlewheel Park Beaches in Vernon, Crescent and Rotary Beaches in Summerland, both ends of Skaha Lake and Haynes Point in Osoyoos.
Local governments up and down the Okanagan Valley have been pushing the federal and provincial governments to allow rototilling to continue in high-public use areas, as untreated areas can become choked by dense milfoil growth and mucky when the plant decays.
A study back in 1991 found that ending rototilling in the Okanagan would cost an estimated $85 million in annual tourism revenue, $360 million in lost property value and over 1,700 job losses within the Valley.