Okanagan Eco-Noggin  

Protecting our biodiversity

Loss of wildlife habitat and biodiversity are unfortunate side effects of urban development globally. Biodiversity is an all-encompassing term that includes the number of species, variety of ecosystems, and genetic diversity within a given area. 

Protecting the Earth’s biodiversity provides many economic, environmental and spiritual services to humans, in addition to the benefits to plants and animals themselves.

So what is the City of Kelowna doing to minimize these effects of urban development? I recently visited the City of Kelowna’s Community Planning Department to find out. Like many environmental issues, the solution lies in protecting the most sensitive areas and species.

In partnership with the provincial and federal governments, the City issues permits to develop natural areas under stringent conditions. Developers must follow a strategy to protect environmentally sensitive areas, such as wildlife corridors, nesting and denning areas, waterways, riparian buffers (land and vegetation along waterways) and groundwater aquifers.

Sensitive areas within and around the city have been inventoried for their ecological function, sensitivity to disturbance, and habitat for threatened and endangered species. Natural areas that you might not think of as particularly sensitive, such as rocky outcrops, are protected for their aesthetic value. If you’ve hiked the rocky areas in Kettle Valley or Myra-Bellevue Park, you’ll likely agree with this assessment.

Threatened and endangered species are classified by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and they are protected under the federal Species at Risk Act. Endangered species in and around the City include the badger, western screech owl and yellow breasted chat. A number of threatened snakes, birds and amphibians also inhabit our region.

Protecting biodiversity and sensitive areas can be done in a few ways, in the order of highest level of protection:

  • Avoid disturbing the most sensitive areas. Avoiding impacts to the environment is always much easier (and cheaper) than having to restore it.
  • Maintain intact ecosystems by providing corridors, to avoid fragmenting the ecosystem where it is disturbed. This is often done along waterways, where the riparian zone is left as a buffer of 15 to 50 meters between the waterway and urban development. Fallen trees and snags are also retained because they provide valuable habitat for birds, rodents and insects.
  • Restore or enhance the ecosystem by planting native vegetation and transplanting animals to their native habitat, and by removing invasive species.
  • Mitigate the damage done by development by controlling soil disturbance, erosion and stream flows. This mainly applies to the construction stage of development.
  • Compensate for disturbance that cannot be avoided by providing equal or greater habitat nearby. This concept is known as “no net loss” and is often applied by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Even though this protection undoubtedly adds costs to urban development, the result is likely to increase the overall value of properties near a protected natural area. In addition to the ecological benefits, communities that include natural areas for viewing and walking have much higher intrinsic and monetary value.

So what does this all mean for you? If you are lucky enough to live adjacent to a waterway or other sensitive area, this means that you need to be very careful about altering the environment along your property, including the soil, vegetation and water – check with the city if in doubt. 

For the rest of us, it means that natural corridors have been set aside both to protect the natural environment and for us to enjoy it. So get out there and appreciate our biodiversity!

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About the Author

Jerry Vandenberg is an environmental scientist and owner of Vandenberg Water Science. He lives in the Okanagan region where he is also a paid-on-call fire fighter.

He can be reached at (250) 491-7260; [email protected]; https://www.linkedin.com/in/jerry-vandenberg/

Website: www.vws.ltd


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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