The Southern Interior Land Trust’s (SILT) 16.6 hectare (41 acre) Bourguiba Spring conservation area on Hwy. 3 on the slopes of Anarchist Mountain just got six hectares larger with the donation of a parcel of pristine sage and bunchgrass hillside.
The commitment was made by Steinar Johnsen, owner, and resident of an adjacent property, during the land trust’s first bus tour of some of its South Okanagan properties on Oct. 14.
The “donation” comes as a result of a Regional District of the Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS) decision around Johnsen’s application to develop a 12.5 ha lot into a six-lot subdivision. Concerns arose such as increasing density outside of a growth area and within an environmentally sensitive area.
Discussing the matter in April this year, the RDOS decided to require a covenant to be registered for a 5.6 ha section of the lot which would then be donated to the SILT for conservation. This was followed by a public hearing on June 20 at the Sonora Community Centre in Osoyoos, and was attended by one of the property owners and six members of the public.
The Bourguiba Spring property was purchased just last year with the support of dozens of donors from around the province and provides vital conservation land for bighorn sheep to endangered bird and insect species.
Commenting on his donation, Johnsen explained that he has always turned to nature to “recharge his batteries” and he hopes his four new neighbours on the property he just subdivided and is building his home on, will feel as passionately as he does about conservation of natural areas.
SILT president Judie Steeves thanked Johnsen for the donation of land commenting, “It takes a commitment from each of us to ensure habitat for wildlife is conserved for all time. Everyone needs to give what they can, whether it be time and energy, financial support, or gifts of skills or natural land features. Otherwise, our children’s children won’t know the wildflowers and creatures which have brought us joy during our lives.”
From a conservation perspective the property is considered very good quality habitat according to biologist Jason Jones of EcoLogic Consultants. He has been working on a University of Guelph invertebrates study on the Bourguiba Spring property this past summer and reckons he collected six million insects from the property for the survey.
During his time there Jones says he counted 27 rattlesnakes in just a 15-minute hike one day and there are more than 80 bird species and three dozen butterfly species, including the endangered Behr’s Hairstreak butterfly, which relies entirely on Antelope Brush for its existence.
Ecologist Don Gayton, who provided interpretive information for the tour guests, noted that the bluebunch wheatgrass that populates the rocky hillsides of the property are a great carbon capture mechanism due to their vast network of roots.
Those along on the day-long bus tour included representatives of the B.C. Conservation Foundation, the RDOS, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, local naturalists’ clubs, and other donors to SILT’s work.
The first stop was to the R.E. Taylor property in Olalla, a 4.9 ha intact wetland of mature water birch and cottonwoods on Keremeos Creek that is habitat for such endangered species as the Yellow-breasted Chat.
Next was a visit to Cawston where the restoration of Ginty’s Pond - a 6.3 ha former oxbow of the Similkameen River - is ongoing. B.C. Wildlife Federation staff and volunteers were working with members of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band and SILT to re-vegetate the margins of the pond to enhance the habitat for aquatic species such as the Painted Turtle and a variety of waterfowl, according to SILT.
All of SILT’s properties are open to the public for non-motorized use and enjoyment without endangering natural features.
The tour wound up with a wine-tasting courtesy of Hester Creek Winery where SILT board member and marketing manager for the winery, Bruce Hibbard provided a tour of the crush pad and barrel room.
Visit siltrust.ca to learn more about SILT and/or to donate.